2021 was a breakout year for ransomware attacks around the globe. With affordable ransomware-as-a-service kits available to hackers (some of them start as low as $66 upfront!), this low-cost cyberattack plagued our shared cyberspace at an alarming rate. No industry or organization was considered off-limits, including one of the world’s largest meat-processing plants.
On May 30, 2021, JBS USA, the American subsidiary of JBS SA, a Brazil-based meat processing company, was hit with a disruptive ransomware attack. The fallout from the cyberattack rippled throughout the meat industry, shutting down beef facilities in several countries and impacting one-fifth of the US meat supply. While many were concerned about potential meat shortages and lost revenue, few paid attention to those hit hardest by the attack: JBS employees.
To highlight the human impact of cyberattacks, we spoke with a JBS employee who unfortunately experienced this digital attack firsthand. Our interviewee, a single mother of three, worked in a Texas-based JBS plant when the cyberattack disrupted the company’s IT systems, forever changing her life. Also captured by CNN, this is her story.
(Edited for brevity and clarity)
DPN: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
EG: My name is Erika Gutierres. I’m 41 and live in Dumas, Texas. I work in the JBS meat plant. I’m also a single parent, I have three little girls that I support.
Walk us through your day, before the ransomware attack happened.
On a normal day, I usually get there at 5:30 in the morning and set up the floor. I make sure that everything is ready before the rest of the staff clocks in. Going in a little bit earlier helps me earn extra cash. I usually clock out around 4:00 – 4:30.
But on that day, we were off. I wasn’t working.
Oh! When did you find out about the cyberattack?
I didn’t know about it till I got to work the following day. When I arrived, my boss told me I couldn’t clock in. I couldn’t do anything, and they weren’t sure how to react to the attack. This was something unknown to everybody. A lot of the people don’t live in the same town as the plant. Many drove from other towns, some over an hour away, and they were clueless of what was happening at the plant.
Speaking about others, how did your coworkers react to this ransomware attack?
We were all scared. At that moment, we didn’t know if we still had our jobs, or how long this was going to take. We didn’t know what was going to happen next. Think about it. This cyberattack hit everything that is associated with people’s jobs. That means it impacted their daily lives, their emotions, their mentality. This was during the pandemic too, so things were pretty rough. It’s scary to everybody, especially me, as a single parent.
And how did this cyberattack impact you?
Usually, we are guaranteed 32 work hours per week, and 32 hours is great, but for a single parent, it can be tight. With so many bills, like daycare and gas, I plan out what I need to do with my paycheck. This attack threw off my hours for a few days. That was hurtful for my pocket. I found myself behind, and for me to catch up was hard. It was not easy.
What are your big concerns today?
My fear is what the hackers might have done with our personal information. How much did they take from JBS? They had our names, addresses, social security numbers – this is a big concern for all of us. Right now, it’s like, “Okay, we fixed it. Let’s forget about it.” But a lot of us haven’t forgotten about it. A lot of us are still wondering when this will come back and bite us. Are they going to do this again? Are they going to attack our banks? Are they going to use our social security numbers? Because we know our information could be out there.
Have you discussed this experience with family or friends?
The first person I called was my mom. I told her about the attack, and she was so worried. She asked, “Do you still have a job? Are you going to be okay? Is it safe for you to be there?” This was something new to both of us, and we were clueless about what’s next. Even my kids were confused. The first day I was home, they were like, “Mom’s home! It’s great to have her here!” Two days later, “Okay, this is getting weird. Why are you still home? Is everything okay?” They were starting to wonder what was happening and were getting scared. They had a million questions that I didn’t know how to answer.
How does this experience make you feel about the Internet?
It makes me not want to use my information online. I don’t want to buy things or pay bills online. I mean, I still do, but before, I was very confident about cybersecurity. Now, there’s some doubt. Now I find myself asking, “Are they going to use my credit card? Are they going to attack the credit card company, or my bank?” A tiny bit of fear stays with me.
What would you tell people unaware of the threat of cyberattacks?
Honestly, before this attack, I didn’t know much about the threat. My experience was a big eye opener. I would tell them that this threat is very much real. I would tell them to be careful. Keep your computers clean. Make sure to do software updates.
Do you have a message for other cyberattack victims?
We can get through it! It’s going to be okay. Smile. Life is beautiful. No matter what hackers do, they can’t get the best of us.
Thank you so much for your time.
Have you been personally affected by a cyberattack? If so, we want to hear from you. Let us know by DMing our Twitter account @DigitalPeaceNow.