Hack attack at major B.C. booze distributor leaves customers struggling with backlog

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Bars, restaurants and private liquor stores around B.C. are dealing with a frustrating backlog in supplies, after hackers targeted one of the biggest links in B.C.’s booze supply chain.

Ransom-seeking cybercriminals successfully breached systems at Container World, a warehousing and logistics company that supplies much of province’s specialty liquor products, on Feb. 14.

Jeff Barlow, director of marketing and business development, said the company acted immediately to shut the hackers out.

Container World’s Richmond warehouse.
Container World’s Richmond warehouse. John Hua / Global News

“It certainly took us by surprise,” he said.

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“There was a threat of a demand, but we didn’t know if this was a legitimate demand or if it was just a prank. So we chose to not pay any demand ransoms and to take the appropriate action to protect our systems.”

Barlow said no customers’ financial information was accessed — but the choice to shut down the system took the entire company offline for more than a week while engineers rebuilt the system from the ground up.

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That left customers who relied on the company scrambling.

“Container World is one of the largest distribution centres in the province, they bring product in internationally, they help distribute domestic products as well,” said Jeff Guignard with the Alliance of Beverage Licensees.

“When they went down for a week it had massive ripple impacts, stores… weren’t able to get specialty products that their customers have chosen.

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“B.C.’s private liquor stores are in general all small mom and pop businesses around the province, and they can’t afford to not have $50,000 in product show up in a given week.”

For private liquor stores like Legacy Liquor in Vancouver’s Olympic Village, it meant having to pass the headaches on to the customer in some cases.

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“We did see some significant delays in our product, we had some special events, we were doing some charity work with the Jewish Community Centre,” said brand manager Darryl Lamb.

“Some of the product for that event didn’t make it in time, even though we had ordered it weeks in advance. It still hasn’t arrived, and the event was last week.”

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It remains unclear why Container World was targeted. No other companies working with the BC Liquor Distribution Branch were targeted in a similar fashion, the company said.

But Container World remains grateful to customers that have dealt with the company while it struggled back to its feet — and deliveries, it said, are finally flowing smoothly again.

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“Today we are fully current, we are basically back to normal as of today,” said Barlow.

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