OHIO — Ransomware attacks are increasing throughout the United States, affecting many industries, and the agriculture sector is no exception.

What You Need To Know

  • In this week's edition of Ag Report, anchor and reporter Chuck Ringwalt and agriculture expert Andy Vance discuss ransomware attacks on the U.S. agriculture sector

  • According to digital solutions company VMware, ransomware attacks increased by 148% in March 2020 over baseline levels from February 2020. 

  • Each week, Ringwalt and Vance discuss a topic of importance within agriculture

According to a report in Bloomberg, major Midwest grain cooperative NEW Cooperative Inc. was hit by a ransomware attack. The group allegedly behind the attack, BlackMatter, is demanding $5.9 million in ransom.

"It's a really unfortunate situation in one of now a series of ransomware attacks that these cyber-gangs have perpetrated on agricultural businesses or industries," Spectrum News 1 agriculture expert Andy Vance said.

NEW Cooperative is a large grain cooperative located in Iowa.

"They work with a lot of farmers," Vance said. "Cooperative means that the business is owned by the farmers who do business with it. And this ransomware attack basically shut down the company's computer systems."

According to VMware, "ransomware is a type of computer virus that seizes control of a user's computer or encrypts the data and then demands a ransom for the return of normal operations."

"This is a big challenge because so many of these systems like the grain-handling systems that run the great, big grain bins that you see when you're driving out through the countryside; all these are very highly automated pieces of machinery now and so these ransomware attacks are not only inconvenient, but they will literally shut down operations for these companies because of the highly technical nature of the machinery and the software that runs it now," he said.

Vance also mentioned the ransomware attack on JBS, the world's largest meat producing company.

"[JBS] had to pay an $11 million ransom to get their operations back up and running," Vance said. "When you see one of these businesses shut down, the supply chain is varied enough and enough different players that it isn't going to cause an immediate impact or shortage at the grocery store or anything along those lines, but it creates a ripple effect where prices go up because let's say in the JBS example. This plant isn't producing meat, so we're going to see a price increase. Here, what we're going to see with NEW Cooperative and this attack is those farmers who are trying to get grain to harvest starting here any day now and in the next several weeks. Are they going to be able to deliver grain and does that affect grain prices, which then if effect makes it more costly to produce meat, milk and eggs because feed prices go up? And that puts a pinch on those farmers downstream."

Vance said consumers shouldn't be super concerned, but instances like this do ultimately play a role in the price paid for food.

He said the FBI works with farmers to prepare them for when a ransomware attack may occur.

"The bigger challenge to me is how do we shut these cyber-gangs down?" Vance said.