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SFMTA 'Never Considered' Paying Ransom to Hackers

The feds are investigating a demand of 100 bitcoins to release the transit agency’s encrypted files.

SFMTA

It’s never a good sign when your transit agency’s work terminals start saying, “You Hacked,ALL Data Encrypted,Contact For Key.” And indeed news surfaced this weekend that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s computer network had been infected with ransomware, with hackers demanding 100 bitcoins (about $73,100) to decrypt locked files.

The attack knocked out service at some fare machines, prompting the city’s Muni to let people to ride for free. About 900 agency computers fell victim to the hack, the SFMTA said Monday evening, though systems controlling operations, safety, and customer payment were not affected. The malicious person or people behind the exploit did not penetrate the agency’s firewalls; some speculate an employee downloaded an infected torrent or fell for an email-phishing scheme.

The SFMTA is now working with the feds to investigate the hack. Here’s a statement sent Monday night from spokesman Paul Rose:

On Friday, Nov. 25 we became aware of a potential security issue with our computer systems, including email.... Our customer payment systems were not hacked. Also, despite media reports - no data was accessed from any of our servers.

In coordination with our partners at Cubic Transportation Systems, which operates Clipper®, we took the precaution of turning off the ticket machines and faregates in the Muni Metro subway stations, starting on Friday until 9 a.m., Sunday. This action was to minimize any potential risk or inconvenience to Muni customers. The primary impact of the attack was to approximately 900 office computers. The SFMTA's payroll system remained operational, but access to it was temporarily affected. There will be no impact to employees' pay.

Upon discovering the malware, we immediately contacted the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to identify and contain the virus. We are working closely with the FBI and DHS to fully investigate this matter and to help them identify a suspect.

The SFMTA has never considered paying the ransom. We have an information technology team in place that can restore our systems and that is what they are doing.

Existing backup systems allowed us to get most affected computers up and running this morning, and our information technology team anticipates having the remaining computers functional in the next two days.

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.