The FBI’s Cyber Division has issued a warning about potential cyberattacks on agricultural cooperatives and food plants amid increasing media coverage of recent fires and explosions at food processing plants across the United States.
“Ransomware actors may be more likely to attack agricultural cooperatives during critical planting and harvest seasons, disrupting operations, causing financial loss, and negatively impacting the food supply chain,” the FBI’s recent notice reads (pdf), noting that ransomware attacks in 2021 and early 2022 could disrupt the planting season by affecting “the supply of seeds and fertilizer.”
“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. In addition, a significant disruption of grain and corn production could impact commodities trading and stocks.”
Detailing a spate of recent cyberattacks on food processing facilities and agricultural companies, the FBI listed at least four separate incidents since last summer.
“In July 2021, a business management software company found malicious activity on its network, which was later identified as HelloKitty/Five Hands ransomware. The threat actor demanded $30 million USD ransom,” the agency stated in one of its examples.
Last month, a grain company that operates in several states experienced a Lockbit 2.0 ransomware attack, according to the FBI. The firm also processes fertilizer and seeds and provides logistics for agricultural services.
“Six grain cooperatives experienced ransomware attacks” between mid-September 2021 and October 2021, the agency stated. “A variety of ransomware variants were used, including Conti, BlackMatter, Suncrypt, Sodinokibi, and BlackByte. Some targeted entities had to completely halt production while others lost administrative functions.”
The warning comes as an increasing number of fires—and even explosions—have been reported at food processing facilities across the country, according to reports, which were even featured during a segment on Fox News’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on April 22.
On April 14, a fire destroyed a food processing plant in the agricultural hub of Salinas, California, officials confirmed. City officials said at the time that an ammonia-triggered explosion sparked the fire at the Taylor Farms Processing Facility.
The most recent fire occurred on April 21 in Georgia, when a plane crashed into a General Mills plant just east of Atlanta, killing two people in the crash, officials told local media outlets. Officials said the plane took off from a nearby airport and appeared to suffer a mechanical failure before crashing into an isolated area of the plant where tractors are located.
Days before that, a fire destroyed parts of the Azure Standard Headquarters in Oregon, local media outlets reported.
“While the HQ facility is a total loss, and a few product lines will be affected for the short term, other Azure Standard facilities are operating as close to normal as possible,” Azure Standard CEO David Stelzer said in a statement after the fire.
However, despite the increase in media coverage of the food plant fires in recent days, the National Fire Protection Association stated that U.S. fire departments respond to an estimated average of 1,210 fires on warehouse properties every year. Fires that were intentionally set and fires caused by electrical and lighting equipment account for about 18 percent of the total warehouse fires, the group stated.
Representatives for the FBI and the National Fire Protection Association didn’t respond to requests for comment by press time.