How Dubious Cyber Activity Hindered Restaurant Operations Across The US

The importance of food distributors is never more evident than when supplies are unavailable, and that was the case for many restaurants last week after signs of what could have been a cyber attack on one of the country's largest food distributors caused widespread disruptions in delivery service, according to Restaurant Business Online.

The target of the possible cyber attack was Fort Worth, Texas-based distributor Ben E. Keith, which employs 6,000 people and accounted recorded over $5 billion in revenue in 2022. On Monday, March 20, the company posted the following message to its website: "Ben E. Keith recently detected unusual activity in our network. In response, we proactively disabled business systems to minimize risk for our business and our customers."

A number of food supply issues were reported in the wake of the alleged "unusual activity." In Texas, several restaurants lost significant business or were forced to shut down entirely due to a lack of necessary food supplies, including multiple Raising Cane's fast food franchises, per My San Antonio. The outlet noted that the supply issues dated back to March 15, five days before Ben E. Keith acknowledged the problem publicly. Sonic, another fast food chain, also was affected by the supply shortages, observed KTXS in Abilene.

In Oklahoma — one of the 17 states serviced by Ben E. Keith — disruptions in supply service also forced some restaurant closures, Oklahoma City's KOCO News reported.

Little is known about the suspected cyber attacks on Ben E. Keith

Ben E. Keith has yet to address the nature of the "unusual activity" that resulted in food service disruptions, and restaurant closures across multiple states. According to Restaurant Business Online, the company declined to furnish amplifying details beyond the fact that "considerable progress" had been made to normalize service by Friday, March 24. It is not known whether law enforcement agencies have been notified, or in fact, whether any crime was actually committed.

If hacking did occur – Ben E. Keith, by its own reckoning the fifth biggest broad-based food and beverage distributor in the U.S. – would not be the only food company that has been targeted recently. Last month, Dole Food Company, one of the world's largest food producers was the victim of a cyber attack, CNN reported, necessitating the brief closure of four Dole production facilities in the U.S.

Like Ben E. Keith, Dole immediately disabled its company computers to minimize the damage. However, SC Media recently reported that information on Dole employees was compromised during the cyber attack. These incidents have become increasingly common, Food Institute notes, as ransomware hackers have become more experienced at planning and executing them.