On Friday, San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation System was attacked by hackers who left a message reading “You Hacked, ALL Data Encrypted” on the system’s computers throughout the city. Their demand? A payment of $70,000 from the city – or they would release the system’s data on the web.
So-called “ransomware” attacks have become more and more common in recent years. Hackers will encrypt a computer’s data, demanding a payment from the user in an untraceable cryptocurrency like Bitcoin with threats to permanently erase the computer’s files if their conditions aren’t met. Antivirus and security professionals recommend taking the exact approach that Muni seems to be embracing: keep frequent backups of your system and refuse to pay.
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As of Sunday, the system appeared to be restored and gates to Muni stations were once again operational. The agency is declining to address further questions about the hack or how its systems were restored, saying simply that the situation is subject to an ongoing investigation, but that “Neither customer privacy nor transaction information were compromised.” The incident did result in one unexpected benefit for passengers: rides on the trains were free throughout the day on Saturday.