On the eve of a long weekend and the end-of-month bustle, a cyber attack forced all 21 branches of Massy Stores to suspend operations yesterday.

Customers who were expecting to carry out their usual month-end shopping were told by employees that the supermarket chain was experiencing technical challenges, which meant that purchasing at the stores and pharmacies was affected.

However, customers who wanted to purchase lunches could have done so via cash only.

In several media releases yesterday, Massy Stores confirmed it was the target of a cyber security attack, which led to all stores across the country being faced with technical difficulties.

The company said it took immediate action, suspending all customer-facing systems, and has been working with third-party ­experts to resolve the situation.

“Backup servers were not affected and the technical team is actively working with the expert teams to restore the system safely and in the shortest time possible,” the company emphasised.

The company assured it was not aware of any evidence at this time that any customer, supplier or employee data has been ­compromised or misused as a result of the situation.

In light of the attack, all supermarkets eventually closed yesterday to allow for its technical team to restore the system, in keeping with its security protocols.

It noted that all store locations will resume normal operations from today.

The company did not address the question of monetary loss as a result of the forced closure of all stores.

In the supermarket chain’s first release yesterday morning, it apologised for the inconvenience, which it said was caused by technical challenges with its front-end checkout systems.

Customer experience

The Express spoke to a few customers who went to shop at Massy Stores in St Ann’s and Westmoorings.

Marsha Gittens, of Glencoe, said she went to Massy Stores, Westmoorings, and did her ­usual big end-month shopping around 10.30 a.m., and it was only when she arrived at the cashier that she was told of the issue.

“I was going to stay around for a bit to see if the systems would have been back up and running, but time was against me so I left the items there and said I will return on Saturday,” Gittens said.

Jeffery Small, from Belmont, said he went to the store at St Ann’s around 10 a.m. and was told the cashing system was down and that they were trying their best to work lane by lane to get the systems back up.

“When I heard that, I said this sounding like Massy got hacked?

“Because when I went on social media and saw it was a nationwide issue for the supermarkets, it confirmed my belief,” Small said.

Marissa Thomas, from Cascade, who also went to the St Ann’s store, said she usually does her month-end shopping at Massy on a morning, and when she entered the car park the security officer said systems were down, so she then proceeded to another supermarket, as it was not clear what time things would have been back up and running.

Cyber attacks on the increase

Supermarket Association (SATT) president Rajiv Diptee told the Express yesterday it came as a shock to him that the largest supermarket chain in the country could have been affected so severely by this. He, however, noted cyber attacks have been on the increase worldwide since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Diptee indicated that last year SATT met with the cyber security incident reporting unit of the Police Service to discuss strategies to prevent these kinds of attacks.

“However, this is a different level of attacks and is cause for concern, as these attacks are not well understood, even by some of the IT software protectors. Is something that we are sensitising our members to, especially in the wake of what happened with Massy,” he said.

He said it was also anticipated by cyber experts that the conflict between Ukraine and Russia would have also increased these ­sophisticated attacks.

“You are beginning to see trends that we are living in a modern-day cyber warfare. The origins of the attacks are not usually from the same country, hence why they are able to attack any company across the world. We must now take the time to educate and build our response systems,” Diptee added.

He said he was pleased with Massy Stores’ response system yesterday, as the supermarket chain kept citizens abreast as to what was taking place.

“I was happy to learn that customers, supplier or employee data was not compromised or misused as a result of the situation,” he said.

Other attacks

In October 2020, conglomerate ANSA McAL was a victim of ransomware hackers who held some of the company’s IT systems hostage. The attack apparently began at ANSA’s automotive operations in Barbados.

One month later, the Port of Spain Corporation fell prey to a cyber attack which crippled the corporation from paying 1,300 daily-­paid workers on time.

Marc Asturias, vice-president of marketing and government vertical at Fortinet, which is based in California, told Express Business last month that in Latin America and the region, including Trinidad and Tobago, cyber attacks increased by 600 per cent during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021.

On Fortinet’s website concerning cyber security statistics, Gartner insight projected that businesses would spend more than US$123 billion on security in 2020, and projects that figure to grow to $170.4 billion in 2022.

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