During the COVID-19 pandemic, the food and beverage industry experienced a significant shift towards digitalisation, placing an increased reliance on technology and online platforms. This shift has been more aggressive than that of other industries, as organisations have had to evolve quickly to not only overcome COVID disruptions but to meet rapidly growing demand and changing consumer needs and preferences.

While digital technologies have helped food and beverage organisations overcome operational challenges and enhance the customer experience, they have also introduced a host of new challenges. Arguably, the most significant of these challenges has been the exposure to new cyber security risks and threats – vulnerabilities that can compromise customer data, disrupt operations, and instantly erode a brand’s reputation.

In this article, we will highlight some of the vulnerabilities that have emerged, explore the potential risks of these vulnerabilities, and discuss what you can do to protect your customers and organisation.


From Fork to Firewall: Assessing the Impact of Cybersecurity on the Post-COVID F&B Industry

Cyber Threats and Vulnerabilities in the Food and Beverage Industry

Cyberthreats in the food and beverage industry are in many ways more complex than that of other industries. For one, the F&B industry serves as critical infrastructure. A serious cyber security incident can disrupt production and supply chains, resulting in supply shortages, rapidly escalating prices, and potentially causing people to go hungry.

But even relatively minor threats can lead to serious consequences. For instance, products may be exposed to allergens or internal temperature gauges could provide erroneous readings, resulting in the distribution of uncooked food. Yet despite these serious risks, a recent UK government report found that only 62% of those in the food and hospitality sector treat cyber security as a business priority. The same report also found that cyber security incidents are common, with 4 in 10 businesses acknowledging that they had suffered an attack within the previous 12 months.

Before organisations can implement adequate cyber security measures, it is important to first understand the different types of threats. The most common fall into three categories: data breaches, ransomware attacks, and phishing attacks.

Data Breaches

A data breach is a security incident that results in unauthorised access to confidential information. With more and more customer data stored online, food and beverage organisations have become prime targets for cybercriminals seeking to exploit security vulnerabilities. Moreover, businesses that work with external vendors are constantly sharing files. A single wrong click can lead to the release of highly sensitive information such as customer data or financial information.

The consequences of a data breach can be catastrophic. According to experts, the average cost of a data breach in 2023 is a staggering $4.45 million USD (approximately $4.1 million Euros). But beyond that, data breaches can lead to irreparable damage to a brand, the erosion of customer trust, and potential regulatory actions.

Ransomware Attacks

Between 2018 and May 2023, there were 157 confirmed ransomware attacks on the food, beverage, and agriculture industries. These attacks resulted in the breach of nearly 700,000 individual records and cost the global economy $1.36 billion USD in downtime alone.

Cybercriminals target a broad range of entities in the industry. They target large organisations based on their perceived ability to pay higher ransom demands. Smaller businesses are viewed as easier targets, particularly those with new or less sophisticated security measures. In a typical ransomware attack, the victims’ files are encrypted and locked. The attacker demands a payment in exchange for decrypting the files. In some cases, the attackers may also copy the files and threaten to release the information in exchange for larger payments.

One recent example of a large-scale ransomware attack involved KP Snacks, a leading producer of a variety of British snack foods. Conti, a Russian-backed hacker group, breached KP’s internal network, gaining access to and encrypting sensitive files, including employee records and financial documents. Conti subsequently leaked samples of credit card statements, birth certificates, and confidential agreements. They threatened to leak proprietary company information unless the ransom was paid. The attack had a widespread impact and prevented KP from processing orders and distributing products until the issue was resolved, costing the company a significant amount of money in lost revenue.

Phishing Attacks

Most of us have been the target of a phishing scheme, whether we realise it or not. In a phishing attack, the cybercriminal aims to trick the victim into divulging information or downloading harmful files like malware. The scheme often involves the use of a fake message such as an email or text, that appears to be from a legitimate source. The victim then interacts with the message believing it to be real.

For example, suppose an employee made a purchase using a business credit card. The cybercriminal learns of the purchase and sends a fake email to the victim. The message states that the victim’s credit card information may have been compromised and requests that the victim confirm the information to protect his or her account. When the victim inputs the information, the cybercriminal can now use the victim’s credit card account to make fraudulent purchases or even sell the information to a third party.


Cybersecurity Measures to Help Protect Your Organisation

Given the increased frequency and sophistication of cyberthreats against food and beverage organisations and the potentially devastating consequences of an attack, it is crucial to implement robust security measures. Some common cyber security measures include secure payment gateways, conducting regular software and system updates, and offering ongoing employee training.

Secure Payment Gateways

Secure payment gateways are PCI-compliant tools that have built-in security measures to encrypt, tokenize, and ultimately protect cardholder information. This makes payment information less vulnerable to cyberattacks and ensures that sensitive data is kept secure.

Regular Software and System Updates

Providers regularly update software and systems to address bugs and vulnerabilities, as well as implement security measures to stay ahead of evolving threats. Patches and updates should be installed as soon as they are available to ensure that your digital infrastructure is secure.

Employee Training

Employees serve as frontline defenders against cyber threats. Make sure to train staff on the best practices for online security, how to recognise threats like phishing attempts, the measures that the organisation has in place to protect sensitive information, and what obligations they have to protect data under applicable laws and regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).


The Role of Regulatory Compliance in Mitigating Cyber Threats

Regulatory compliance involves adhering to applicable laws and industry-specific regulations and standards. In the food and beverage industry, compliance with standards such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and privacy regulations like GDPR helps ensure that organisations take adequate measures to protect sensitive data.

Moreover, international standards such as ISO 27001 provide a proven framework upon which food and beverage organisations can establish and implement data protection processes and procedures. Complying with these standards not only helps in mitigating risks but also builds a foundation of trust with customers.

Accruent is a leading provider of robust solutions that help food and beverage organisations maximise equipment effectiveness, improve processes, achieve compliance, and safeguard sensitive data. Maintenance Connection is a best-in-class CMMS solution that helps food and beverage businesses streamline maintenance tasks and maximise asset performance.

Meridian offers centralised document management, allowing F&B organisations to maintain a secure repository for important documents, such as specifications, safety plans, and standard operating procedures. Moreover, the solution establishes an audit trail and helps organisations to achieve and maintain regulatory compliance.

Want to discover more about how Maintenance Connection and Meridian can help your organisation safeguard your data and systems? Visit the Maintenance Connection and Meridian product pages to learn more. For more information and to request a demo, get in touch via our website.