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Risky Business: Cyberattackers Make Job of Food Suppliers Even More Challenging

Food suppliers feel the risks and impact of cyberattacks. NSF experts discuss the challenges facing the food sector and potential solutions.

For food sector workers, it’s been especially hard to escape the growing headlines that portray agriculture businesses and others in the food industry as increasingly under siege by nasty cyberattacks on their critical infrastructure.

Last fall, two Midwest agriculture companies, New Cooperative in Iowa and Crystal Valley in Minnesota, suffered serious ransomware attacks. New Cooperative was hit with a demand for $5.9 million. After the two incidents, analysts underscored the timing of the attacks, which occurred in early fall, just as harvests were ramping up for farmers.

They Are Not Alone

The food and agriculture sector is considered a vital part of the nation’s critical infrastructure by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in Washington, D.C. The industry is largely in the hands of private owners and includes an estimated 2.1 million farms, 935,000 restaurants, and more than 200,000 registered food manufacturing, processing and storage facilities. This sector alone accounts for about 20% of the United States’ total gross national product.

Marcus Sachs, Deputy Director for Research at Auburn University’s McCrary Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security, spoke on cybersecurity trends in the industry at the recent Food Safety Symposium. “As the food and agriculture sectors become more digitally connected, new types of evolving threats are sure to occur. Our food and agriculture sectors need to become more vigilant,” Sachs said. “Food safety, food defense and cybersecurity are now inextricably intertwined. They will have to be dealt with through robust planning and resilient operations so that our food supply can remain safer, diverse and abundant.”

NSF’s Suzanne Barkley, Director of Certification for supply chain food safety, and her team have witnessed numerous hardships as they work with food companies to conduct audits at food manufacturing and packaging facilities. She offers three tips and insights to help food safety professionals cope with and try to protect against the threat of cyberattacks.

  • Create Your Contingency Plan

    Have a contingency plan so that cyberattacks don’t negatively impact audits and the certification to produce your food products safely.
  • Understand the Risks

    Digital infrastructure in the industry only opens the door for more threats and issues with security.
  • Become More Vigilant

    Include security measures against cyberattacks in your budgeting, leadership strategy and project plans.

At NSF, our mission focuses on the auditing and certification work we do to help food and agriculture companies navigate this challenging cyberspace environment. We’ve learned firsthand how difficult the work of food safety professionals has become in the face of these daunting cyber threats. We’re here to help lessen this burden for food producers, processors and distributors alike.

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