Wool Farmers Hit by Cyberattack

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Cybercriminals are now targeting farmers around the globe, with the latest attack on an Australian wool farmer causing shutdowns across the country setting a dangerous precedent for the industry.


A ransomware attack - whereby hackers install software into a network that essentially cripples it until a ransom is paid to the hackers - was launched on industry software company, Talman, which caused the cancellation of all Australian wool auctions last week; with 44,000 bales of wool worth up to $70 million unable to be sold.


According to the Financial Review, “the disruption has put huge cash flow pressure on wool buyers, brokers and farmers already under financial distress from drought and in some cases bushfires.”


The timing of the ransomware attack comes exactly five years after a review from the Australian Wool Innovation found that there was a heavy reliance on the software company, Talman, and therefore the entire industry was left vulnerable if that provider were to be compromised- which is what we’ve seen transpire this week.


The auctions were slated to recommence on Tuesday in Melbourne, however, that has been pushed back by another day as IT specialists struggle to get the system working again.


Talman claims that it is the world’s largest supplier of IT systems for the wool industry, said to provide as much as 75 percent of the industry’s systems in Australia and New Zealand.


“The latest plan is to hold auctions in Melbourne, Sydney and Fremantle on Wednesday and Thursday, with extra auction slots available in Melbourne as the industry tries to clear some of the backlog and get shipments moving,” the AFR notes.


Jo Hall, chief executive of Wool Producers Australia said that farmers have been growing anxious and left in the dark about the ransomware attack that has left a number of them “living hand-to-mouth” after the drought and bushfires.


“The poor old grower is being left in the dark and the uncertainty around that alone is stressful,” Hall said. “With droughts and fires and all the rest of it going on, cash flow is a significant concern. It simply is not good enough,” she added.


In 2015, the Australian Wool Innovation review found that the reliance on Talman’s systems could perhaps prove troublesome if something were to go wrong. In a statement, they said that “the panel concludes that reliance on a single provider for such an important piece of infrastructure leaves the industry vulnerable and it should take steps to manage this risk.”


Pramod Pandey, chief executive of the Talman earlier this week confirmed that the company’s system had been restored, and was being tested. Dr Pandey said that it was “a waste of time harping on” about the circumstances surrounding the cyber hack, adding that there was nothing to suggest that the wool industry was being targeted specifically.


“There is no malice. It is [a] random event, it could happen to anyone,” he said.


The AFR goes on to write that “it is understood only part of the services provided by Talman to facilitate wool auctions in Australia will be relied on this week, with industry finding an alternative means for brokers to post catalogues and allow other interaction with buyers.”


Chris Wilcox, executive director at the National Council of Wool Brokers of Australia said that the network outage is unprecedented in his thirty-years working in the industry, with hugely important events like the September 11 attacks causing only day-long disruptions to the wool industry.


“This time last week I was talking to buyers on the auction show floor and they had had a lot of inquires from overseas, particularly from China, and there was quite a buoyant mood and expectation that the wool price might have even risen,” he said.


“Presumably those orders are still there ready to be filled as long as buyers can fill their shipping commitments,” he added.

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