Ransomware attack at Sobeys a 'mess', say employees

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Rançunware attack at Sobeys” a “hass”, according to employees

Employees of Empire, the company that owns Sobeys supermarkets and other brands, say it actually suffered a ransomware attack (archive).

Employees of Empire, the company that owns Sobeys supermarkets, among others, describe the chain's struggles following a recent ransomware attack.

Empire has announced the November 7 that a confidentiality incident interrupted certain customer services, including those of its pharmacies. Then, on November 11, it reported that its pharmacies were fully operational again, although some stores were still experiencing some difficulties.

It's a waste, says an employee of a Safeway store in Western Canada.

CBC/Radio-Canada agrees to protect the identities of employees who granted interviews about it because they are afraid of being fired for disclosing this information.

The company has 1,500 stores in Canada, including those of Sobeys, Lawtons, IGA, Safeway, Foodland and Needs.

Cybersecurity experts have said they suspect the company's computer systems were hacked in a ransomware attack. During any such attack, the hackers block the operation of the systems by demanding a sum of money.

Employees confirm it was a ransomware attack. According to the Safeway store employee, it all started when someone in administrative services clicked on a link received by email. The employee does not know the exact amount claimed by the hackers. But I know it was millions of dollars.

The difficulties started during the night of November 3-4. The next morning, employees found that the computers were just displaying a message that they were crippled by ransomware, says a worker at the butcher and seafood counters at a Safeway store. I saw the word ransom, which immediately scared me.

Management has asked employees not to log into their respective accounts, to unplug certain electronic scales and not to use digital scanning devices used to track inventory.

An empty display in a Sobeys store on November 14, 2022, more than a week after a ransomware attack disrupted the supermarket chain.

Some stores were unable to place orders and ran out of stock of certain products. A day or two later, warehouses began shipping products based on their availability and estimated needs.

According to one employee, the estimate was sometimes right, sometimes not. We're getting all kinds of weird products that we haven't seen in decades.

Some stores haven't received their orders for certain products. Employees had to fetch products from other stores.

In some stores, product prices had to be entered by hand.

From the first day of the attack, some cash registers were no longer working. There have been long lines and customer frustration, according to a Safeway worker.

Some customers were unable to redeem their gift card or Scene loyalty program points. Some stores could no longer transfer funds through Western Union, which also caused frustration, according to an employee.

Employees of the Empire company explain that the prices of products in supermarkets had to be indicated by hand because it was impossible to use the computer system, crippled by ransomware.

The employer did not inform the employees of the cause of the outage. They were advised to tell customers it was a computer problem. An employee says he felt uncomfortable presenting this story to customers. You feel like you're fooling everyone because more things are happening behind closed doors.

Computer issues have also disrupted scheduling and payroll Empire employees. A worker claims that the work schedule was handwritten on a piece of paper. Some employees had to record their working hours themselves.

The chain's employees receive their salaries every two weeks. Some learned last week that they were not going to be paid Thursday as usual.

Employees later explained that the employer had found an alternative. Since the attack occurred during the first week of a pay period, the employees would receive the same remuneration the following week even if the number of hours worked was different from that of the first week.

Each employee also received an additional $100 on Thursday for any overtime worked during the second week. The company expects all employees to reimburse any excess monies received when the payroll computer system is restored.

Sylvain Charlebois, Director of the Agri-Food Analytical Sciences Laboratory at Dalhousie University, points out that several shelves in Sobeys supermarkets were empty because of these difficulties.

According to him, many people do not understand how important a ransomware attack against the food industry is. He says the second largest grocer in the country has suffered cyberterrorism.

The attack is not only worrisome for personal information managed by the company (credit cards, loyalty, pharmacies), it is also worrying for food safety, explains Mr. Charlebois.

The food industry operates with large volumes of products and a low profit margin. A ransomware attack therefore threatens to lead a company in this industry to its loss, according to Mr. Charlebois.

This could lead to a partial paralysis of food distribution in the country and to a considerable increase in prices, at least temporarily.

According to a report by Frances Willick, by CBC

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