Oversight chief presses JBS on why it paid ransom amid cyberattack

Jun 11, 2021
In The News

The chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee is pressing JBS USA to explain why it paid $11 million in ransom to a cyber criminal group earlier this year.

In a letter released Friday, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) asked JBS USA chief executive Andre Nogueria to turn over all documents related to the ransomware attack and records of its communications with REvil, the group the FBI believes to be responsible, by June 24.

“I am deeply troubled by this and similar ransomware attacks,” Maloney wrote in the letter.

“Any ransom payment to cybercriminal actors like REvil sets a dangerous precedent that increases the risk of future ransomware attacks. Congress needs detailed information about the attack to legislate effectively on ransomware and cybersecurity in the United States.”

JBS USA admitted Wednesday that it paid $11 million in ransom to a Russian cybercrime group to prevent critical data from being destroyed. The ransomware attack temporarily disabled all of JBS USA’s meat processing plants, shutting down the country’s second-largest producer of beef, poultry and fish. 

“This was a very difficult decision to make for our company and for me personally,” Noqueira said in a Wednesday statement  “However, we felt this decision had to be made to prevent any potential risk for our customers.”

Even so, Biden administration officials and the FBI have urged companies not to pay ransom if they’ve been hit with similar attacks, arguing that it will only encourage more cybercriminals to follow suit.

JBS’s decision to pay off ransomware hackers came a week after Colonial Pipeline also paid millions of dollars worth of cryptocurrency to end a similar attack on the company. The Justice Department was later able to recover much of the ransom.

The ransomware attack on JBS additionally reignited scrutiny of the company following a series of scandals related to its expansion within the U.S. 

Lawmakers who’ve long been concerned about the dangerous consolidation within the agriculture sector citied the attack on JBS as a prime example. As the supplier of 25 percent of US beef and 20 percent of pork and poultry, a prolonged disruption at JBS could trigger meat shortages and soaring prices across the country.

There has also been intense bipartisan concern about the means through which JBS USA became the one of the largest suppliers of meat. 

Federal prosecutors alleged that JBS SA, the U.S. company’s parent firm, used U.S. banks, shell companies and an apartment in a bribery scheme that helped finance JBS’s acquisitions of Pilgrim’s Pride and Swift & Co. The company's owners paid $280 million to resolve foreign bribery charges.