Security Experts:

Ransomware Group Demands Millions From U.S. Farmer Cooperative

Cybercriminals are hoping to obtain millions of dollars from a major farmer cooperative in the United States after they breached its systems, encrypted files, and stole vast amounts of data.

The attackers are a group that uses the BlackMatter ransomware and the victim is Fort Dodge, Iowa-based New Cooperative, which has 60 members and offers agronomy, grain, feed, energy, and software solutions.

New Cooperative has confirmed that it’s dealing with a “cybersecurity incident” that has impacted some of its systems. The company says it has taken systems offline to contain the threat, which, according to Bloomberg, has led to manual processes being used for many tasks.

On their leak website, the ransomware group claims to have stolen 1,000 Gb of data from New Cooperative, including financial information, files storing data on employees and contracts, legal and executive information, files describing “product creation procedures” and “R&D results,” and technical information about the organization’s network. They also claimed to have obtained source code for the company’s SOILMAP agriculture software.

BlackMatter emerged in July and is believed to have ties to DarkSide, a Russia-linked ransomware group that appeared to shut down operations in May after massive blowback resulting from a highly disruptive attack on Colonial Pipeline, one of the largest pipeline operators in the United States.

On its website, the BlackMatter gang claims it does not target hospitals, non-profit organizations, the oil and gas industry, defense organizations, government agencies, and critical infrastructure facilities such as power plants and water treatment facilities.

BlackMatter leak website

The food and agriculture sector is also considered critical infrastructure by the U.S. government, but the attackers seem determined not to back down in the case of New Cooperative.

Leaked conversations that allegedly took place between New Cooperative representatives and the hackers appear to show the company trying to convince the attackers that they are part of critical infrastructure and that the incident will have a significant impact, even bigger than in the case of the Colonial Pipeline attack, as much of the nation’s grain production leverages its software. However, the cybercriminals do not seem convinced and are insisting on getting paid.

Deep web intelligence feed DarkFeed reported that the group wants $5.9 million from New Cooperative.

“What's notable about the attack is the company's insistence that they are critical infrastructure and should therefore be spared as per BlackMatter's own policy,” said John Shier, senior security advisor at Sophos. “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.”

Related: Biden Tells Putin Russia Must Crack Down on Cybercriminals

Related: Green Energy Company Volue Hit by Ransomware

Related: Success of Ransomware Attacks Shows the State of Cybersecurity

view counter
Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.