Earlier this month, Senator Ernst and I
sent a letter
to Secretary Mayorkas asking him to address the devastating cyberattacks
conducted against our nation’s agricultural sector. Agriculture is designated
as one of the country’s sixteen critical infrastructure industries. But
historically it has not received robust cybersecurity support from the
government. Attacks from foreign cyber criminals are threatening both the
livelihood of our farmers and the security of the food we eat.
Last month, NEW Cooperative, an Iowa grain
co-op, was the target of BlackMatter, a Russian cybercrime cell. The cyberattack
shutdown systems that control crop irrigation, livestock feed schedules and
inventory distribution. NEW Cooperative comprises 40 percent of the grain
distribution in the country. The co-op narrowly managed to avert a crash in
grain prices without paying the $5.9 million ransom.
These attacks are not limited to just
large distributors. The Russian group BlackByte claims it attacked Farmers Cooperative
Elevator Co., an Iowa grain co-op with just four locations. BlackByte is
threatening to release 100 gigabytes of sensitive data — including financial,
sales and accounting information if a ransom isn't paid.
The extent of the damage from the NEW
Cooperative and Farmers Cooperative Elevator Co. attacks is not isolated to the
grain market. Feed from these co-ops sustain more than eleven million heads of
livestock. These attacks affect the supply chain that puts food on the shelves
in grocery stores across the country. As Iowa farmers adopt new technologies to
get their crops to market, their exposure grows to similar attacks.
These two ransomware attacks are only the
latest in a long line of cyberattacks on our critical infrastructure this year.
In July, a Miami-based software provider was attacked, which resulted in
trickle down affects to thousands of organizations. In June, JBS Foods, the
world’s largest meat processing company was attacked, shutting down nine meat
packing plants in the United States. In May, Colonial Pipeline was shut down for
eleven days, resulting in buying panics and shortages.
While many cyber-attacks originate from
Russia, attacks have come from other countries. Earlier this year the Biden
Administration formally blamed China for a massive hack of the Microsoft
Exchange email server. The hackers responsible appear to work directly for
China’s Ministry of State Security. Estimates range as high as 250,000 victims
in that attack.
In July, the Senate Judiciary Committee,
where I serve as Ranking Member, held a hearing at my request looking at how to
prevent and respond to ransomware attacks. During this hearing, witnesses
testified that the Department of Homeland Security would be identifying and
hardening critical points of failure. However, it is clear that their actions
up to now have not deterred criminals from targeting the United States
Farmers might be only two percent of the
U.S. population, but they provide for the other 98 percent. Their job is no
small task. Keeping America fed. There is an old quote that goes “There are
only nine meals between mankind and anarchy.” The quote is key to understanding
the importance of keeping our agriculture supply chains safe and secure.
I want to thank my colleagues, Senator
Ernst and Senator Cotton for joining me today in calling attention to this
ongoing national security concern. Agricultural security is national security.
It is time that we do more to protect this critical sector of the economy.