Expert: Ag industry not prepared to tackle cyberthreats


WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The White House is calling on the private sector to amp up online defenses after a weekend cyberattack took some meat processing plants offline, but agriculture industry experts say the nation’s food suppliers may not have the funding or knowledge to confront future attacks.

JBS, one of the nation’s leading meat suppliers, said it is quickly resuming production and added the attack’s impact on supply was low.

The White House said Wednesday is it evaluating the best way to respond, with press secretary Jen Psaki saying it is “not taking any options off the table.”

Like last month’s attack on the Colonial Pipeline, which led to fuel shortages on the East Coast, federal investigators have traced the ransomware attack on JBS to a Russian cybergang. Psaki said President Joe Biden will discuss it with Russian President Vladimir Putin when the two meet later this month.

Asked recently by reporters if he thinks Putin is testing him, Biden responded simply, “No.”

Last month, Biden signed an executive order aimed at improving internet defenses at federal agencies. Now, his administration says the private sector needs to do more.

“There needs to be a lot more done,” said Susan Duncan, who teaches about cybersecurity and agriculture at Virginia Tech.

She said there’s still a huge knowledge and funding gap within the agriculture industry.

“Twenty percent of the small industries can be readily hacked,” she said. “I’m not just talking about processors, I’m not talking about just farmers, but I’m talking about all of the supplier issues.”

She says the government must do more to protect the food supply.

“Imagine that in 30 years, we’re all fighting over food not because of just the population growth but because technologies have been corrupted,” Duncan said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it is working closely with ag companies to ensure a safe supply.

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