Northern ticket machines hit by ransomware

The incident comes just two months after the rail operator invested £17 million in 621 new self-service machines

Northern's newly installed self-service ticket machines have fallen victim to a ransomware attack, forcing the operator to take them offline.

The incident comes two months after the rail operator installed 621 new ticket vending machines across its network, having invested £17 million in the scheme.

A spokesperson for the government-owned train operator confirmed to IT Pro that the incident took place last week, causing “technical difficulties” which “meant all [machines] have had to be taken offline”.

Although an investigation is still underway, the “indications are that the ticket machine service has been subject to a ransomware cyber attack”, they said, adding that they are working with its ticket machine supplier, Flowbird Transport Intelligence to “restore normal operation to our ticket machines as soon as possible”.

No one has claimed responsibility for the incident, and the company hasn't received any ransom notes.

The ransomware attack had “only affected the servers which operate the ticket machines” and hadn’t compromised any customer and payment data”, the spokesperson told IT Pro.

“We are sorry for any inconvenience this incident causes and, in the meantime, are advising customers to either use Northern’s mobile app or website to purchase tickets in advance and, where necessary, to collect those from one of our ticket offices. Of course, those offices can also be used to buy tickets,” they said.

"Customers who have already bought tickets to be collected at a machine, or who would normally use ‘promise to pay’ slips, should board their booked service and either speak to the conductor or to Northern staff at their destination station”.

Commenting on the news, cyber security expert Rick Jones said that the incident is “yet another example of how damaging these attacks are, and a stark reminder that no industry is safe”.

“Ransomware attacks are affecting every facet of society, it isn’t going away and organisations need to get back on the front foot. Northern Rail has likely been identified as a target for hackers as a government-run organisation with critical services and infrastructure. It has provided an excellent opportunity for hackers to cause chaos following newly implemented technology solutions at over 420 stations to the cost of £17 million, and the potential to impact thousands of people,” he added.

Northern has informed its customers about potential difficulties by posting a travel alert concerning the ticket machines to its website.

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