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FBI warning to farmers on ransomware attacks could impact consumers at grocery stores

FBI warning to farmers on ransomware attacks could impact consumers at grocery stores 02:38

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- A new warning right now for local farmers.

The FBI says you need to be on alert for ransomware attacks. As KDKA money editor Jon Delano explains, those attacks on farmers could impact the rest of us at the grocery store.

Whether it's a dairy or poultry farm, a cattle farm, or a farm that grows grain, farming is a key part of Pennsylvania's economy.

"Farming is our number one industry right now in the state of Pennsylvania," says state Sen. Elder Vogel, a Beaver County Republican and a local farmer.

"It accounts for about $84 billion," says Bill Zeiders with the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

That explains why the FBI says cybercriminals using ransomware may go after farmers, especially during this season when many crops are planted.

In a private industry notification, the FBI noted, "A significant disruption of grain production could disrupt the entire food chain, since grain is not only consumed by humans but also used for animal feed."

As for an attack on a dairy, poultry, cattle farm, or meat-producing facility, the FBI warned, "An attack that disrupts processing at a protein or dairy facility can quickly result in spoiled products and have cascading effects."

"If you don't have your shipping and receiving abilities because your computer system is locked up," says Vogel, "it could have an impact on a grocery store system pretty fast."

Vogel, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, said, so far, he has not heard of ransomware attacks in this state, but he warns every farmer to have computer backup systems.

"Just because you're a small farmer, maybe only has just a couple hundred acres and small crops, they can still attack your system same as they can attack anybody else's," Vogel said.

Zeiders with the Farm Bureau said the FBI's ransomware alert should be taken seriously by everyone.

"Any kind of shutdown, especially when it comes to agriculture and our food supply, is obviously concerning," Zeiders said.

The FBI highlighted a ransomware attack last month on a multi-state grain company that provides seed and fertilizer and also cited agriculture cooperatives that supply multiple farms as most vulnerable to extortion.

But as Senator Vogel said, every farmer needs to be on alert.  

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