How hackers broke San Francisco’s transport system

How hackers broke San Francisco’s transport system

In a country where public transport a borderline dirty word, San Francisco’s Municipal Transport Agency (MTA) is a glowing beacon of efficiency. Originally designed to transport residents between any two points in the city using no more than two trains/buses and a two-block walk, the system has coped well with the city’s growth.

However, late last week the network was hit in a hack that allowed customers to travel for nothing.

In this blog, we look at how one of the largest public transport networks was broken and discuss the effect it had on the city.


Bringing the city to a standstill

Late last week, the hackers struck, infecting over 2,000 computers with malicious software, locking out transport admins and blocking access to each computer’s saved data. To return the system to normal operation, the hackers demanded 100 bitcoins (a type of digital-only currency) be sent to their account. At the current exchange rate, the ransom is around £60,000.

In a message released to the media, the hackers explained that the attack wasn’t targeted and automatically exploited weaknesses in the San Francisco system. The message read:

We don’t attention to interview and propagate news! Our software working completely automatically and we don’t have targeted attack to anywhere! SFMTA network was Very Open and 2000 Server/PC infected by software! So we are waiting for contact any responsible person in SFMTA but I think they don’t want deal! So we close this email tomorrow!

San Francisco’s transport brass were not to be bullied, however, and refused all communication with the ransomers, opting to open all the barriers and let residents ride for free until they could fix the problem.

Light Rail
San Francisco’s light rail bore the brunt of the attack.

During the attack on Friday, a San Francisco MTA spokesperson said: “There’s no impact to the transit service, but we have opened the fare gates as a precaution to minimise customer impact.”

In the end, the attack was short lived and the network was back up and running by the Monday morning rush hour.


Are smart systems always smart?

Digital systems are brilliant for infrastructure, allowing administrators to link different networks together and respond to issues faster. At Caledonian Couriers, for example, we use a number of digital technologies in our Total Courier Management methodology.

However, as San Francisco MTA proved, it’s important to also have experienced personnel behind the scenes who know what to do when things go wrong.

And that is exactly why we’ve invested in our people as well as our technical systems. Our management team has over 50 years experience and has led the way in the courier industry since 1994.

To discover what makes Caledonian Couriers different, give our team a call on +44 (0)141 959 4444 or email [email protected].