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Home » Food Giant ADM Is Shoring Up Defenses Against Hack Attempts, CEO Says

Food Giant ADM Is Shoring Up Defenses Against Hack Attempts, CEO Says

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Agriculture company

Archer Daniels Midland Co.

ADM 1.11%

is shoring up defenses against what it views as inevitable cyberattacks, its chief executive said.

Chicago-based ADM has formed a ransomware task force and is running drills as incursions against food and agriculture companies have surged in recent years, including an attack in late May on meatpacking giant JBS SA.

“We always do these exercises, where we assume we will be a target,” said

Juan Luciano,

ADM’s chief executive, speaking Thursday at The Wall Street Journal’s Global Food Forum.

An ADM facility in St. Louis, Mo.


Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News

Agricultural companies such as ADM, one of the world’s largest crop traders and processors, are deepening investments in technology as the U.S. farm sector goes digital. Farmers are incorporating data-driven planting and harvesting systems, while crop buyers like ADM, Cargill and others beam prices to farmers’ phones and automate grain delivery operations.

Cybersecurity specialists said the agricultural-technology revolution has created new risks for the farm sector and the U.S. food system. There were 600% more data breaches last year among U.S. agricultural companies compared with 2019, according to risk-consulting firm Kroll LLC, and 2021 is on pace to show another annual increase, according to the firm’s case data. One farm equipment distributor had to notify tens of thousands of customers following a recent network breach, the firm said.

Last month, the U.S. division of Brazilian meatpacking giant JBS disclosed a cyberattack that forced the company to temporarily shut beef, pork and poultry plants across the U.S., Canada and Australia. Farmers and meat buyers scrambled as JBS worked with cybersecurity consultants and federal law-enforcement officials to get the company’s systems back online. JBS later said it paid an $11 million ransom in bitcoin to help ensure no further incursions as its plants reopened.

Heather Williams, an associate managing director for Kroll’s cyber-risk practice, said the agriculture industry represented a rich target for such attacks. “They’re targeting disruptions in an industry that’s made that digital transformation and still has work to do to secure it,” she said.

In 2019, at an ADM lab in Decatur, Ill., a scientist worked on a vegan nacho- cheese sauce formula.


Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News

Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, early this month urged food and agriculture companies to tighten their cyber defenses and warned of the potential risks to the food-supply chain.

ADM’s Mr. Luciano said ADM had defended itself against previous cyberattacks, some of which aimed to siphon money by impersonating executives or attempting to trick employees into circumventing ADM’s internal controls.

“They haven’t impacted our operations,” Mr. Luciano said. ADM’s multiple plants and diverse transport networks, from barges to railcars, have helped the company navigate hurricanes and wars, and he said they would help shield its customers from a cyberattack.

Ransomware attacks are increasing in frequency, victim losses are skyrocketing, and hackers are shifting their targets. WSJ’s Dustin Volz explains why these attacks are on the rise and what the U.S. can do to fight them. Photo illustration: Laura Kammermann

Write to Jacob Bunge at [email protected]

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