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Cyberattack crashes Washington transportation websites

The MV Kittitas, one of the vessels in the Washington State Ferries fleet.
Courtesy Washington State Department of Transportation
The MV Kittitas, one of the vessels in the Washington State Ferries fleet.

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 service to many of its web pages, but its highway travel map, mobile app, ferry vessel tracker and online freight permit service remained down as of midday.

The cause and the culprit behind the cyberattack are still under investigation, spokesperson Kris Abrudan said, 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 at this time that other systems were affected or 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.”

The statewide traffic cameras on the department’s mobile app were restored Thursday, but the maps on its web page remained down.

Ferry schedules are still available on the department’s app, though the feature that allows riders to track boats is still not running.

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 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 saidits social media platforms are the best source for road updates. Statewide traffic cameras are also still available on the department’s app. Commercial vehicle permits are available in handwritten form at locations across the state.

The department was hit by a major cyberattack in December 2021. Officials said that breach targeted an older computer system and may have exposed personal data for about 2,200 employees for private construction contractors.

At the time, the department said it had addressed the security flaws that led to that previous attack and was evaluating policies and training to further strengthen cybersecurity.

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.