Strack & Van Til stores back to normal after email that contained ransomwear attack

Cashier stations at the Strack & Van Til store in Valparaiso.

All 21 Strack & Van Til and Town & Country supermarkets are back to normal after an employee unwittingly opened an email last week that contained a ransomware attack, police said.

The attack shut down the chain's point-of-sale systems at its cash registers, resulting in temporary closures of half its stores and long lines at the remaining ones.

The company is implementing new security measures to prevent an attack like that from affecting customers in the future.

"Things are progressing according to plan," Indiana Grocery Group President and CEO Jeff Strack said. 

A Highland Police Department report stated Strack & Van Til's computer system "was being forcibly shut down by an unknown individual until a ransom was paid."

"(Strack's loss prevention specialist) advised that they received an email yesterday and upon opening it, the entire system shut down (to include the backup system that was being encrypted as well)," the police report stated. "It was at that time that the unknown subject demanded the ransom in exchange for returning the system back to Strack's control."

Highland police and Cyber Crimes investigators with the FBI are working the case, which the police report said remains under investigation.

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After being shut down during one of the busiest grocery shopping periods of the year, Highland-based Strack & Van Til eventually got all its stores back open Thanksgiving Day. The Hobart store on U.S. 6 had only two lanes open on the holiday, but that was resolved the following day.

"No issues and we are moving forward with our recovery plan," Strack said.

There were hiccups at the St. John store Saturday that were quickly resolved as the supermarket resumed normal operations everywhere.

"We had a human mistake at the St. John store that was mitigated as soon as possible," Strack said. "That was unrelated."

Strack stressed that no customer information was taken or affected in any way, as the company does not store debit or credit card information.

Known for its fried chicken, customer service and baggers in dress shirts and ties who cart groceries out to your car, the family-owned Strack & Van Til is Northwest Indiana's largest local grocery store chain. Dating back to a joint venture between longtime Region grocers Ernie Strack and Nick Van Til in 1959, it has supermarkets in Cedar Lake, Chesterton, Crown Point, East Chicago, Hammond, Highland, Hobart, Lowell, Merrillville, Munster, Portage, Rensselaer, Schererville, St. John, Valparaiso and Whiting.


Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.