DEERFIELD, Ill. – While most of the world focused on the financial impact of the recent global ransomware cyber attacks, few people seem to realize that hackers may now threaten the world’s food supplies.
But one reporter for the relatively small retail blog The Consumerist may have exposed the real problem, even if she didn’t know it.
In a short post on July 7, Laura Northrup alerted us to the fact that the targeting of one European company by the ransomware attack threatened the world’s access to snack foods, like Oreos. And while her report focused on the company’s investor relations messaging, she managed to expose the real threat, and that was the delay of shipments of the company’s products.
The ransomware attacks that returned to Europe in late June affected a variety of large companies around the world, including snack company Mondelez, which had to miss some shipments at the crucial end of the quarter after its computer systems were compromised.
Mondelez is the owner of familiar brands like Oreos, Trident, and Cadbury chocolate, and the late June cyberattack meant that the company had issues with shipping and invoicing products at the end of June. That’s right: A malware infestation affected the entire planet’s access to snack foods.
While her reporting seemed somewhat light-hearted, what she could have focused on was a new existential threat.
In a world in which corporations own most of the farms, and an overwhelming percentage of food production and distribution, the idea that hackers can infect corporate systems and halt food shipments should not be taken lightly.
As Northrup reported, Mondelez was initially evasive about the result of the cyber attack:
The company had announced that it was having unspecified technical problems, but didn’t specify whether those were related to a new round of ransomware attacks.
But we now know that because of this malware attack, food deliveries were in fact halted, thanks to an updated Mondelez announcement.
We are pleased that we are making good progress in restoring our systems across the enterprise. Since the time of the incident, our teams have done remarkable work to continue to operate the business, manufacture our products, serve customer needs and progress the recovery activities. We believe the issue has been contained and a critical majority of the affected systems are up and running again.
Given the timing of this significant global attack, despite our best efforts, we experienced disruption in our ability to ship and invoice during the last four days of our second quarter.
Since grocery stores and other food outlets nationwide carry just-in-time levels of inventory, an orchestrated attack focused on disrupting food distribution could be devastating to the economy and parts of the nation depending on the an operational supply chain.
It’s widely reported that the ransomware attacks shut down hospitals. What’s to stop hackers from disrupting oil supplies? What happens in the big cities and to families not living a prepared, self-reliant lifestyle if companies are incapable of resupplying grocery store shelves or gas stations?
At what point would we break?