Cyber attacks spark trouble for a grain collective.

In a move that could upset the foodservice industry, Russian-linked hacker group, BlackMatter Raas (Ransomware-as-a-Service), hit grain co-op, NEW Cooperative with a cyber attack, demanding 5.9 million dollars to unlock their data.

Ransomware attacks to the agricultural sector could result in valuable crops being wasted and a loss in productivity. Additionally, NEW Cooperative, who relies on smart technology, provides feed for 11 million farm animals in the United States.

BlackMatter’s ransomware attack in this case could cause a disruption to the United States grain, pork, and chicken supply.  This attack comes at a time when the global food supply chain is already at its most vulnerable, due to problems caused by the pandemic.

Who Is NEW Cooperative?

According to their Facebook page, NEW Cooperative is a member-owned farmer collective with 60 operating locations throughout Iowa. They offer grain services, feed, fertilizer, crop protection, and seed resources. NEW Cooperative also offers agronomic opportunities in soil mapping, site-specific field management and precision technology services.

Who Is BlackMatter?

BlackMatter, in their own words, “are a team that unites people according to one common interest – money.” Their group’s core values include honesty and transparency when dealing with their victims and they purportedly never attack the same company twice. The group is rumored to have developed as a rebrand of high-profile Raas organizations, REvil, DarkSide, and influenced by LockBit 2.0.

Cyber attacks spark food supply chain disruption.
Prior to smart technology, ransomware groups lacked access to US agricultural production. Now, even a small disruption in service has widespread consequences for our food supply chain.

A Battle of Semantics

As seen on the dark web, BlackMatter states in their ethical playbook, “We do not attack: Critical infrastructure facilities” which they define as nuclear power plants, power plants, and water treatment facilities.”

The Biden administration, however, contends that the grain sector should be included in the critical infrastructure umbrella of the United States. Back in July of 2021, President Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that 16 critical sectors of the US economy is off-limits to hacking groups. The Food and Agriculture sector is included among the 16. BlackMatter, however, argues that the size of NEW Cooperative’s organization is too small to be considered “critical” as well as it only operating in one state.

The Future of Supply Chain Disruptions

Currently, negotiations and workarounds with the Iowa-based farming collective are still in play, furthering supply chain disruptions in the United States. As noted by a NEW Cooperative spokesperson, approximately 40% of grain production runs on their technology.

As smart technology continues to play a role in our agricultural supply chain, so does the threat of cyber attacks disrupting our essential infrastructure. Even small delays in the time-sensitive food distribution supply chain can lead to significant economic loss and a disruption of services.

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