Cyberattack hits Washington State Ferries

Written by Nick Blenkey
Washington State Ferries cyberattack

Credit: Shutterstock

Maritime’s vulnerability to cyberattacks continues – around the world. Last week, as one of Australia’s largest port operators, DP World Australia was forced to shut down operations for three days, Washington State Ferries, too, was hit by a cyberattack. It didn’t shut down operations, but it was a major inconvenience for ferry users.

Key parts of the Washington State Department of Transportation’s website and mobile app — including those for Washington State Ferries (WSF) were down from Tuesday last week following what officials described “as a cybersecurity incident aimed at disrupting the flow of travel information posted online.”

The Seattle Times reported that the cyberattack outage caused “major disruptions for anyone trying to track the chronically late ferries or navigate mountain passes as winter approaches.” The newspaper quoted WSDOT spokesperson Barbara LaBoe as saying, on November 9, that the incident had not then been turned over to law enforcement, but might be in the future. The IT team at WSDOT would complete its investigation before passing on what it had learned, LaBoe said.

The newspaper said that with ferry boats often off-schedule in recent years, it’s become common practice to track their location on the state’s app or website.

“Ferry crews Wednesday night posted a handwritten sign on a cone in the Bainbridge ferry terminal, telling passengers the boats were late and ‘off schedule’ and to ‘watch for them,’ meaning look out toward the Sound to find the location of boats,” said the newspaper.

By Saturday, the cyberattack incident appeared to have been resolved, with WSDOT posting this on its Facebook page:

“As of Saturday morning, all of our public-facing web applications and services have been restored by staff working overnight and through the weekend to bring things back online after Tuesday’s outage and cyber security issue.

“We know having systems down is disruptive and frustrating, so we are very thankful for the public’s understanding, flexibility, grace and even humor on our digital platforms. We hope the public also joins us in recognizing the hard work of our Technology Services Division who worked tirelessly day and night to restore systems as quickly and safely as possible, as well many other co-workers who found ways to keep the public informed while systems were down.

“These outages were caused by a cyber security incident that interrupted the flow of travel-related information on the agency’s public websites. There is no indication at this time that any other systems were affected, or any personal information was accessed.

“The cause of the incident remains under investigation.”

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