How a Cyber Attack Caused a Cream Cheese Shortage

You know that major cream cheese shortage that’s been making headlines? It turns out hackers were behind it. And it was only one of several major disruptions they caused this year.

Hackers have long shown a lack of moral fiber when it comes to their attacks. From hospitals and schools to water treatment plants, there seems to be no line they won’t cross. That fact was borne true when they chose their latest victim: the American cream cheese supply. 

You’ve probably seen the headlines about the national cream cheese shortage. Bagel shops have been in crisis mode. Grocery stores can’t stock their shelves. For the first time in 71 years, famed cheesecake company Junior’s ran out of the delicious ingredient and was forced to shut down baking for a day and a half. No one was untouched.

What could possibly have caused this level of devastation? A cyberattack. 

 

Explaining the Cream Cheese Shortage

In October, one of the nation’s biggest cream cheese manufacturers, Schreiber Foods, was forced to close for several days after hackers compromised its distribution centers and plants. Though that may not seem like a long time, the company’s size meant that the shutdown rocked U.S. markets. 

Part of what made the cyberattack so impactful was that it hit at the peak of cream cheese demand. The holiday season always sees a major increase in cream cheese use as Americans do more baking — particularly of desserts that have cream cheese as an ingredient. That combined with the general uptick in cream cheese sales by both at-home consumers and the food services industry, the general logistical and labor constraints brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, broader supply chain issues that had already been interfering with production, and the fact that cream cheese has to be fresh so there are no huge reserves of the product to pull from all meant that there simply wasn’t enough schmear to go around. 

Although Schreiber Foods has remained tight-lipped about the details of the incident, there is some suspicion that it might have been caused by a ransomware attack. 

 

Recent Cyberattacks That Hurt More Than Cream Cheese

Cream cheese wasn’t the only item making headlines last year. For the past several months, the news has been filled with discussions about supply chain disruptions that have caused prices on everyday products to skyrocket. Many of these disruptions are the direct result of cyberattacks. 

The most significant of these was a ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline. The attack not only held the company hostage, it also prompted a panicked run on gas stations on the East Coast, causing a major spike in gas prices. When Colonial Pipeline discovered the attack in May 2021, they immediately paid the culprit, the Darkside ransom gang, a $4.4 million ransom. Despite the payment, Colonial Pipeline was still forced to shut down for a time due to the strength of the attack.

And gas wasn’t the only victim of ransomware last year. In June, JBS meat plants were hit with an attack orchestrated by Russian cybercriminal group REvil. Like Colonial Pipeline, JBS paid the ransom — $11 million — and, also like the gas company, they were forced to shut down significant operations despite payment. All of JBS’s beef plants in the US were closed down and many of the company’s poultry and pork plants were also affected by the attack. It took several days for the plants to return to normal working conditions — a lifetime for a company that manages a fifth of hog and cattle slaughter in the US. Given that prices on meat were already skyrocketing due to labor and supply shortages before the attack, the incident risked making meat prices untenable for many.

 

Prevent Future Cream Cheese Shortages and Other Disasters by Staying Cybersecure

While Colonial Pipeline and JBS had the financial resources to pay the exorbitant ransomes they faced, many organizations — particularly small and mid-sized businesses — are less fortunate. A successful ransomware attack can do more than just reduce the availability of cream cheese. It can prove devastating to a company that’s unprepared. 

The best way to prevent that kind of outcome is to take cybersecurity measures. From investing in firewalls and threat intelligence solutions to engaging in best practices like backing up and encrypting essential data, avoiding suspicious emails, and strengthening passwords, there’s a lot you can do to make it harder for bad actors to successfully attack your systems. 

Knowing exactly what you should do and how to do it can be a challenge, though. That’s where Turn-key Technologies, Inc. (TTI) comes in. Our cybersecurity experts have 30 years of experience protecting organizations of all sizes from bad actors. We’ll work with you to create a strong security posture that suits your specific needs and lets you do business without worrying about hackers. Contact us today to get started!

By Sharon Carolan

January 20, 2022

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