The FBI issued a private industry notification on Wednesday to warn agricultural cooperatives about a potential increase in ransomware attacks during planting and harvest seasons.
In September 2021, the FBI warned the food and agriculture sector that an increase in ransomware attacks could impact the food supply chain. The same month, two major farming cooperatives were hit by ransomware.
The FBI now says cybercriminals could time ransomware attacks on farming cooperatives to critical seasons. These attacks could result in the disruption of operations, financial loss, and they could even have an impact on the food supply chain.
“Cyber actors may perceive cooperatives as lucrative targets with a willingness to pay due to the time-sensitive role they play in agricultural production,” the agency said. “Although ransomware attacks against the entire farm-to-table spectrum of the FA sector occur on a regular basis, the number of cyber attacks against agricultural cooperatives during key seasons is notable.”
The FBI is aware of multiple ransomware attacks targeting farming co-ops since 2021. While some of the incidents resulted in only administrative operations getting disrupted, others affected production. In some of the attacks reported in September and October 2021, the victim had to completely shut down production.
“A significant disruption of grain production could impact the entire food chain, since grain is not only consumed by humans but also used for animal feed,” the FBI explained. “In addition, a significant disruption of grain and corn production could impact commodities trading and stocks. An attack that disrupts processing at a protein or dairy facility can quickly result in spoiled products and have cascading effects down to the farm level as animals cannot be processed.”
In terms of economic impact, a ransomware attack can cause financial loss due to the production shutdown, and there can also be significant costs associated with responding to the incident. Organizations often have to weigh these potential costs against the ransom demand made by the cybercriminals, which can be millions and even tens of millions of dollars.
The FBI is aware of a HelloKitty (Five Hands) ransomware attack in which the threat actor demanded a $30 million ransom.
The agency said recently that nearly 650 ransomware attacks were launched against critical infrastructure organizations in 2021.
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