A Muni rider purchases a ticket at the Powell Street station (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

FBI announces investigation into Muni hacking

The FBI is investigating the recent hacking into Muni’s computer systems, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

“The FBI has an open investigation” into the Muni incident, FBI spokesperson Prentice Danner told the Examiner on Tuesday.

SEE RELATED: ‘You Hacked’ appears at Muni stations as fare payment system crashes

Though the FBI said previously the agency was in communication with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, this is the first time they’ve confirmed an open investigation into the incident.

San Francisco transit officials said that Muni computer systems were compromised late Friday after an SFMTA employee apparently downloaded “ransomware,” a form of malware that allows an attacker to lock up a victim’s computers and demand a ransom to release them for use.

SEE RELATED: SFMTA denies claim that computer system attack has been ongoing

The alleged attacker who took over Muni’s computer systems has demanded 100 bitcoin, equivalent to $73,000, in ransom for stolen city data. The SFMTA has said it refuses to pay the ransom.

Also Tuesday morning, it was revealed by nationally noted cyber crime journalist Brian Krebs on his blog, KrebsOnSecurity, that the Muni hacker may have been hacked.

“Turns out, the miscreant behind this extortion attempt got hacked himself this past weekend,” Krebs wrote, “revealing details about other victims as well as tantalizing clues about his identity and location.”

The new hacker, whose email identifies them as Nick Maxxwell, also contacted the San Francisco Examiner. Maxxwell claimed to have taken over the original hacker’s email account, which was on the Russian-based email service Yandex, by guessing the account’s password reset security answer.

“I’m waiting for the fbi [sic] to reply to the info I have for them,” Maxxwell wrote. “There [sic] kind of slow it seems on getting back to me.”

The entire message across Muni computers on Friday and through the weekend read, “You Hacked, ALL Data Encrypted. Contact For Key(cryptom27@yandex.com)ID:681 ,Enter.” Muni subway fare computers were out of service on Saturday and early Sunday before they were restored. Documents obtained by the Examiner from the alleged malware attacker show perhaps as many as 2,000 SFMTA computers were compromised.

Danner was unable to confirm whether FBI was in contact with Maxxwell. But Maxxwell presented screenshots of the Examiner’s correspondence with the original hacker as proof that they broke into the account.

Krebs, the cyber crime journalist, apparently spoke to the new hacker, and wrote in his blog they were a security researcher who wished to remain anonymous, perhaps implying Maxxwell is a pseudonym. Krebs wrote that the original hacker, known only by the common hacking pseudonym Andy Saolis, was successful in ransoming other organizations’ data and has made at least $140,000 in other such attempts.

“We’ve never considered paying the ransom,” SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said previously, “because we have in-house staff capable of recovering all systems, and we’re doing that now.”

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