In the weeks following the Colonial Pipeline hack, another major ransomware attack is now threatening the supply chain of the U.S. meat industry. Virginia Tech agriculture and cyberbiosecurity expert Susan Duncan says that consumers may feel ripple effects in the weeks ahead as businesses wait for deliveries to restock shelves and have meat available for food service menus.

Quoting Duncan

“Computer systems influence nearly every aspect of the meat and food industry. However, the meat industry is not the only affected sector,” explains Duncan. “Delayed production influences distribution and availability of meat to retail consumer outlets such as grocery stores, restaurant chains, large food distribution companies, etc., as well as processed food companies relying on these sources as ingredients.”

Duncan says such attacks also impact the economy as meat and food processing facilities that have personnel in place are not able to work, dependent on their role at the facility.

“Many companies typically have supply ready for distribution and it appears that the recent challenge is being addressed quickly, however there could be some additional supply limitations that will influence filling the demands over the next week or so.”

“We could also see ripple effects to the economics, including the management of downstream businesses as they wait for deliveries, supply, affecting trust in suppliers, and retail as they all anticipate filling their orders, deliveries, stocking of retail shelves or having meat available for food services.”

Looking ahead, Duncan says establishing standard cybersecurity strategies are critical to preventing future ransomware attacks to food supply chains. For the food and agriculture system, it is also important for understanding the integration of digital, biological, cyber, and physical systems, which requires cooperation and subject matter experts in a variety of knowledge domains.

“Standard cybersecurity strategies are important. Most major companies have information technology professionals who monitor these risks and strategize for how to manage the problem,” says Duncan. “It is beneficial to all sectors of the food and agriculture system, regardless of size, to be aware of the threats that exist, ransomware and others.”

About Duncan

Susan Duncan is an associate director of the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and director at the Center for Advanced Innovation in Agriculture at Virginia Tech. Her areas of expertise include sensory response to foods, with a focus on the implications of quality changes affected by processing, storage and packaging. She also studies the increased technology adoption in the food and agricultural system, security of biological data generated from agricultural and food sectors is paramount. Read more here.

The Virginia Tech Center for Advanced Innovation in Agriculture is focusing on the relevance and importance of protecting the food and agriculture system at the biological, digital, cyber, and physical intersection to assist in securing food supply from farm to fork.


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