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Cyberattack Disrupts Texas Department of Transportation

The attack is the second of its kind to target a state agency in less than a week. On May 8, the state’s court system was targeted by a ransomware attack, which seized control of a portion of the statewide network.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) was hit by a ransomware incident last Thursday, making it the second state agency to suffer such an attack in a little less than a week.

On the heels of an attack against the state's Office of Court Administration (OCA) May 8, a hacker gained access to the TxDOT's network last week, in what officials are calling a "ransomware event." The agency took measures to contain the damage and has contacted the FBI to help with its investigation, according to a press release.

"We want every Texan to rest assured that we are doing everything we can to swiftly address this issue. We are also working to ensure critical operations continue during this interruption," TxDOT Executive Director James Bass said in a statement Friday.

While it's unclear which services have been affected by the attack, the agency's website appears to have lost some functionality and now includes a banner that reads: "Due to technical difficulties, some website features are unavailable. We are working to resolve this issue quickly."

The Department of Information Resources (DIR), the state's IT agency, is also looking into the incident, spokesperson Christi Koenig Brisky confirmed in an email, while declining to elaborate on the agency's role in the matter. 

"DIR is working in partnership with TxDOT to respond. DIR takes our role in assisting other government organizations with cybersecurity incidents very seriously," she said, adding that TxDOT is a customer of DIR's Texas Data Center Services, which provides data management and security to state and local agencies. 

Texas has had a difficult time with ransomware attacks over the past year. Last summer, 23 different localities were simultaneously hit by the malware in a coordinated attack. The fallout took months to recover from. 

Meanwhile, the most recent attacks have taken place as the state's executive leadership seeks to navigate a tricky re-opening process, making such disruptions to state services even more problematic.

The attack on the OCA rocked the state's court system, impacting a bureaucracy already saddled with COVID-19 difficulties. Officials say they were "able to catch the ransomware and limit its impact," however. 

DIR is also working with OCA, said Koenig Brisky. OCA could not be reached for comment.

Lucas Ropek is a former staff writer for Government Technology.