Minnesota farm coop caught in ransomware attack

Crystal valley becomes second agribusiness to find data encrypted by criminals

Tractor pulling a trailer across a farm

Minnesota-based farm supply and grain marketing coop Crystal Valley has become another agribusiness caught up in recent ransomware attacks.

In a Tuesday statement released by the Mankato, Minnesota-based cooperative, it said it was attacked. The following day, its website went offline. The organization serves over 2,500 farmers in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.

The coop then made a statement on its Facebook page saying the attack “has infected our … computer systems and interrupted the daily operations of our company.”

The attack left the organization unable to accept Visa, Mastercard, and Discover cards until further notice, although “local cards do work.”

“As we continue to navigate through this with the help of experts, we appreciate your patience and understanding. We will continue to update with information as it becomes available,” it added.

The coop’s CEO, Roger Kienholz, told local newspapers it was “working diligently with our internal IT team along with multiple outside technology vendors to restore our data and return to full-service operation in a matter of days, especially now with fall harvest getting underway.”

What ransom cyber criminals have demanded from the small cooperative or what type of ransomware they used in the attack remains unknown. The incident comes just days after an attack on another farming cooperative.

Earlier this week, Iowa-based agricultural coop New Cooperative was hit by an attack by the BlackMatter ransomware gang.

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Andrea Carcano, co-founder of Nozomi Networks, said the food supply chain, and the supply chain in general, doesn’t have strong cyber security measures in place. 

“Making matters worse, our national supply chain is already stretched thin due to COVID and recent natural disasters,” he said. “Those suppliers who invest early in strong cybersecurity programs and resiliency are able to respond faster, and with less financial damage, when an attack occurs."

John Shier, senior security advisor at Sophos, told ITPro what was notable about this  attack is the company's insistence that they are critical infrastructure and should therefore be spared as per BlackMatter's own policy.

“However, the operators behind BlackMatter disagree with this assessment and are continuing to pursue payment from the victim. This attack will be the first to test the new U.S. government policy on reporting attacks against critical infrastructure to CISA and the Biden administration's response to such an attack,” he said.

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