The Vineyard Gazette – Martha’s Vineyard News | #emailsecurity

The Steamship Authority was hit by a ransomware attack early Wednesday morning that reverberted across ferry line operations, causing the website to crash, pausing vehicle reservations and hampering credit card systems.

Website was hit by the ransomware attack Wednesday morning.

Noah Asimow

In an email update at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll confirmed that the boat line was the target of a ransomware attack and that internal IT personnel, as well as local, state and federal authorities were working to determine the extent and origin of the attack.

A spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard First District confirmed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been brought in to investigate.

Coast Guard petty officer Amanda Wyrick told the Gazette by phone that her agency was working in conjunction with the state police cyber security unit and the FBI to examine the attack. She said that the FBI had the lead on the investigation.

“I think it’s important to note the incident doesn’t impact the safety of the passengers,” Ms. Wyrick said.

The website has been non-operational since early Wednesday morning, displaying various temporary home pages and error messages. It was still down as of early Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Driscoll said in the early afternoon update that the attack did not affect vessel safety and that boats were running on schedule, but that ticketing could be delayed and cash was preferred for all transactions. 

“There is no impact to the safety of vessel operations, as the issue does not affect radar or GPS functionality. Scheduled trips to both Islands continue to operate, although customers may experience some delays during the ticketing process,” Mr. Driscoll wrote. “If traveling with the authority today, cash is preferred for all transactions. The availability of credit card systems to process vehicle and passenger tickets, as well as parking lot fees, is limited.”

With the website down, SSA customers are unable to book or change vehicle reservations online or by phone, according to the updated statement. Mr. Driscoll said existing vehicle reservations will be honored at terminals, and that the boat line would waive rescheduling and cancellation fees.

The attack first became known early Wednesday morning. A brief initial statement from the SSA that went out around 9:30 a.m. said a team of IT professionals were assessing the impact of the attack and that additional information would be provided after the assessment was completed. In a follow-up email, Mr. Driscoll said the attack could affect vessel operations. 

Mr. Driscoll’s statement was sent from a personal email address, indicating that the attack had affected the SSA email server. 

State police spokesman David Procopio referred a request for comment to Mr. Driscoll.

By midday Wednesday, the home page displayed a red, bolded error message. A handful of links allowed customers to access schedule pages, but reservation bookings redirected to the site’s temporary home page.

“Unfortunately, we have run into an error we weren’t able to recover from,” the website read. “We’ve been notified of the error, and will look into it right away. In the mean time, feel free to hit Back and try again.”

An hour later, and a different error message had appeared. 

“The resource you are looking for might have been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable,” the message read.

Ferries were still running on schedule out of both Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven.

Attacks from ransomware — a form of malware that threatens to publish the victim’s data or perpetually block access to it unless a ransom is paid — have become increasingly common across the country, with separate attacks disrupting everything from university operations, to the meat industry to gas pipelines throughout the American South. Victims have had to pay a monetary ransom to regain control of their data. 

The SSA ransomware attack was picked up by national news outlets Wednesday. 

Ferry line scheduling occurs through the SSA’s website — although phone service is also available to customers by calling ticket offices.

The website crash comes after the SSA dealt with a downed control box at its Oak Bluffs pier Tuesday that led to the diversion of multiple trips into Vineyard Haven. Saltwater entered the box, causing to it fail, Mr. Driscoll said in a phone interview Tuesday.

The electrical component was repaired by mid-day Tuesday and service had returned to normal.

Maia Coleman contributed reporting.

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