Cyberattack crashes parts of WA transportation website

The Washington State Ferries vessel Samish, at the Anacortes ferry terminal. (Bill Lucia/ Washington State Standard)

A cyberattack has disrupted parts of the Washington State Department of Transportation website and knocked some of the agency’s services offline, frustrating ferry riders and drivers across the state.

The situation began Tuesday. The department said Thursday morning it was working to restore many of its web pages, but its highway travel map, traffic cameras, ferry vessel tracker, and online freight permit services for oversized loads remained down as of midday.

An update at 5 p.m. from the department said that online permit services were once again available. The department also said some traffic cameras were working through its app.

“Restoration work continues and other webpage applications will follow as staff works into the holiday weekend to restore remaining services while also safeguarding the agency’s systems,” the department said in a statement Thursday evening. “As systems are brought back online, service may be spotty at first. Verifying and turning systems back on takes time to do safely.”

The cause and the culprit behind the cyberattack are still under investigation, spokesperson Kris Abrudan said earlier in the day, but she added that it was likely aimed at interrupting the flow of travel-related information on the agency’s public-facing website.

There is no indication so far that any personal information was accessed, Abrudan said. She did not answer questions about whether it was a so-called ransomware incident, where criminals demand money from governments or companies to stop a cyberattack or release locked-up data.

“We know this disruption is frustrating,” Abrudan wrote in an email. “Our staff relies on the same disrupted tools and systems in their own travels.”

Ferry schedules are still available on the department’s app. A website feature that allows riders to track ferry vessels was still not running Thursday night.

Abrudan said there were currently no issues with purchasing ferry tickets or making vehicle reservations, though the department announced Tuesday it was delaying its winter vehicle reservations on its popular Port Townsend to Coupeville and Anacortes to San Juan Island routes for one week due to technical difficulties. The department’s plan is for reservations on rides for the first three months of the year to be available for purchase at 10 a.m. next Tuesday.

While WSDOT works to restore full online services, the department said its social media platforms are the best source for road updates.

Washington Technology Services, or “WaTech”, the agency that houses the state’s Office of Cybersecurity, said that the transportation department was the only state agency affected by the cyberattack.

“At the present time there is no indication of any state data breach,” said WaTech spokesman Andrew Garber in an email on Friday morning. “For security reasons we can’t go into details of what happened.”

A major cyberattack hit the state transportation department in December 2021. Officials at the time said that breach targeted an older computer system and may have exposed personal data for about 2,200 employees for private construction contractors.

The department also said it addressed the security flaws that led to that previous attack and was evaluating policies and training to further strengthen cybersecurity.

by Laurel Demkovich, Washington State Standard

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and Twitter.

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