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Major Iowa cooperative offline after cyberattack

A Fort Dodge-based cooperative with several locations across North Iowa was struck by a ransomware attack and has shut down its computer systems as a result.

NEW Cooperative confirmed through a statement that it had been attacked and was working with law enforcement and security experts to mitigate the damage.

NEW Cooperative operates grain elevators in many parts of Iowa, buys crops from farmers, sells fertilizers and other chemicals for growing crops, and owns the tech platform SoilMap that helps farmers maximize the use of their land for optimum crop growth.

“New Cooperative recently identified a cybersecurity incident that is impacting some of our company’s devices and systems,” according to an earlier statement from the cooperative. “Out of an abundance of caution, we have proactively taken our systems offline to contain the threat, and we can confirm it has been successfully contained.”

In North Iowa it is located in Algona, Belmond, Britt, Forest City, Garner, Klemme and Meservey. A message left for the Garner office inquiring whether they were still accepting grain was not immediately returned. An individual at the Britt location referred the Globe to the Fort Dodge headquarters. All of the pages on the company's website referring to company leadership show a 404 page error. A person who answered New Cooperative's main number asked for the reporter's name and phone number and noted another "statement would be coming out shortly," but would not confirm whether the coop is still accepting grain.

A Russian-speaking cybercriminal group named BlackMatter has taken responsibility for the attack, according to its website and is seeking $5.9 million in "ransom" for the data, which includes financial and human resources information, as well as the source code for SoilMap, according to a story posted on the news wire service Reuters.com. SoilMap's website says its information is currently unavailable.

After Bloomberg.com published a story on its site on Monday about the attack it was contacted by BlackMatter, who said it did not believe New Cooperative is critical infrastructure.

"They will pay or have nothing," the group said, according to Bloomberg.com.

The timing of the attack is making it crucial that NEW gets their systems back online as soon as possible as many farmers will start their combines this week and begin delivering crops to NEW’s elevators across Iowa, Don Roose, president of U.S. Commodities in West Des Moines, told Reuters.

“They have got you boxed into a corner,” Roose said. “Harvest is right now. This is the week that we are just starting to ramp up harvest, particularly for soybeans.”

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