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UK government needs to boost cyber security of its food supply chains

Cyber Security | August 27, 2021

Following last month’s ransomware attack against the world’s largest meatpacker JBS, experts in the UK are also taking closure look at how vulnerable the UK’s food supply chains are to cyber attacks.

A leading food expert has warned that the Britain’s food supply is highly vulnerable to attacks from threat actors, and warns that the government needs to put emphasis on domestic production to boost food security in the country.

“If anyone wanted to really damage the British food system, they could just take out the satellites,” Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City, University of London, told .

“Our ‘just-in-time’ system is entirely dependent on computerised logistics. When you pay for your food at the checkout, the computer isn’t just adding up the bill, it’s reordering the stock.”

Last month’s attack on JBS led to increased pressure on a food-supply chain that is already under strain due to high transportation costs, labour shortages and production constraints. The attack forced the company to shut down several plants in the US and Australia, impacting beef markets.

While JBS downplayed the impact, it admitted that it had paid $11 million in ransom to the hackers.

In recent years, experts have drawn attention to the large number of food companies still using legacy computer systems as well as outdated software that are vulnerable to cyber attacks. They advise that the government need to enforce cyber security standards in the food industry in the same way it enforces food safety standards.

Lang’s warning comes as the UK government is due to publish the second part of its national food strategy. The first part of the report, which was published last year, said that Brexit was a “once-in- a-lifetime opportunity” to overhaul UK’s food policy.

Lang has also co-authored a report – focusing on UK’s food security – with Terry Marsden, professor of environmental policy and planning at Cardiff University and Erik Millstone, emeritus professor of science policy at Sussex University.

The report warns that the government has become too complacent about Britain’s food security and heavily relies on others to feed its population.

The UK currently imports nearly half of its food and 84 per cent of its fresh fruit. It is also heavily reliant on EU countries, such as Spain and Italy for vegetables and ambient goods (tinned tomatoes and pasta).

“The government’s default position is to leave food matters to corporate interests,” Lang warned.

According to Lang, the UK should aim to be 80 per cent self-sufficient in food production, compared with about 50 per cent now.

In addition, the new food policy must also ensure that food supply lines are properly protected from cyber attacks from adversaries and are able to provide accessible, affordable, sustainable, and decent food to people.

This content was originally published here.