Meatpacking giant JBS pays USD11 million to ransomware hackers

WASHINGTON (AFP) – JBS, one of the world’s biggest meat processors, has paid bitcoin worth USD11 million in ransom to hackers to prevent any further disruption after a paralyzing cyberattack believed to have originated in Russia.

Hackers targeted the computer systems of Brazil-based JBS last week, impacting production and operations in the United States (US), Australia and Canada, and issued a ransom demand to the global meatpacking giant.

The company’s US subsidiary said Wednesday it had paid the equivalent of USD11 million to the attackers.

“This was a very difficult decision to make for our company and for me personally,” said Andre Nogueira, CEO of JBS USA.

“However, we felt this decision had to be made to prevent any potential risk for
our customers.”

The company said it made the payment “to mitigate any unforeseen issues related to the attack and ensure no data was exfiltrated”.

The JBS meat plant is seen in Plainwell, Michigan. PHOTO: AFP

Nogueira told the Wall Street Journal that the ransom was paid in bitcoin. The JBS hack was the second major ransomware attack on a major US entity in recent weeks.

A cyberattack in May forced the temporary shutdown of the huge Colonial fuel pipeline network in the eastern US, and sparked panic buying in some states.

Colonial paid USD4.4 million in ransom to Russia-based group DarkSide to regain control and restore operations.

The US Justice Department later recovered USD2.3 million in bitcoin, tracking the ransom payment as it moved through multiple anonymous transfers and eventually seizing it from a cryptocurrency wallet.

The White House has not blamed the Kremlin directly for the recent ransomware attacks, only suggesting that criminal groups are operating from inside Russia. However, President Joe Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki said “responsible states do not harbour” cybercriminals.

Experts said many independent ransomware extortionists appear to be located in Russia or former Soviet satellites in eastern Europe. The attacks have grown so frequent that the issue has been elevated in seriousness in the Justice Department to the level of terror attacks. Recent ransomware targets include local governments, hospitals, insurers, and even a ferry service in Massachusetts.

At least USD18 billion was paid to ransomware attackers last year, according to the security firm Emsisoft. It has found “tens of thousands” of victims so far in 2021.