Police investigating 'suspicious network activity' impacting TransLink
VANCOUVER -- Transit police, along with both local and national cyber security experts, are investigating the suspicious network activity experienced by TransLink. The BC RCMP confirms it too is involved.
Transit users in Metro Vancouver faced a second day of challenges Wednesday as TransLink systems, including some modes of payment for passengers, remained suspended due to what the company describes as suspicious activity on its network.
TransLink did not confirm what the activity is and whether any customer or company information has been put at risk.
The company says it disabled some services “out of an abundance of caution.”
In an updated statement officials say, “Given this is an active investigation involving law enforcement authorities, we will be limiting our comment at this time.”
That’s a “cop out“ said cyber expert Dominic Vogel.
“When it comes to these types of events, data breach issues or cyber security issues, you need to be really transparent," Vogel said.
TransLink initially warned passengers on Tuesday that credit card tap payment at fare gates was suspended and credit and debit cards weren’t working at Compass Card vending machines.
Those issues continued Wednesday morning, with the vending kiosks accepting cash-only to load fares or purchase single tickets. The payment issues meant problems for most people trying to board without having a pre-loaded Compass Card.
Late in the afternoon Wednesday, Translink said in an emailed statement while customers cannot use a credit card at a Compass Card vending machine, “customers can now use credit cards at Tap to Pay fare gates.”
It appears there are also delays in accessing stored balances for people who topped up their Compass Card accounts online or in-person with cash since Tuesday.
The timing of the issues are unfortunate given many passengers top up their accounts at the beginning of the month.
CTV News spoke with a woman who paid $131 or a two-zone monthly pass on Tuesday. She says when she boarded a bus with her daughter Wednesday morning she realized something was wrong.
“I was trying to get onto the bus. I tried tapping my card and it said insufficient funds,” she said. “It’s a little bit of a struggle.”
She says she called Compass Card customer service and waited on hold to get information on what was happening with her account for nearly 40 minutes.
TransLink noted stations would have at least one fare gate left open for those unable to load a fare due to the system issues and also said on social media that bus drivers were “aware of the situation.”
“People are still expected to have valid fare, however, given the circumstances officers will be using discretion where appropriate,” Sgt. Clint Hampton with Metro Vancouver Transit Police said in an email to CTV News Wednesday morning.
Vogel said experts are seeing a “big increase” in cyber crime globally since the start of the pandemic. He said in this case it could be anything from “systems trying to be locked offline, potentially being held for ransom,” to whether the personal information for customers is at risk.
Compass Card passengers have the option to use "auto pay," where the system stores your credit card information and when the funds get down to $5, it automatically refills. TransLink has not confirmed whether this information is part of this suspicious activity.
“Just because law enforcement is involved, doesn’t mean you can’t be transparent,” said Vogel.
At Lougheed Town Centre Station there were credit card tap issues early Wednesday morning, but credit card taps appeared to be working at some fare gates by 7:30 a.m.
While TransLink noted Tuesday that transit services had not been affected by the ongoing issues, in a tweet to a customer Wednesday morning the company noted it was not currently able to track the locations of buses.
“Unfortunately our information and communication systems are down at the moment. We are unable to track buses at this time,” TransLink tweeted to a passenger.
TransLink’s trip planner tool is also offline, with the company’s website re-directing people to Google’s trip-planner instead.
A Facebook video posted by someone identifying themselves as a unionized employee at the Vancouver Transit Centre indicated that computers were not working and some phone lines were having issues on Tuesday morning.
The union representing bus drivers in Metro Vancouver says it is aware of the system issues and TransLink investigation but says nothing reported by the employer to the union so far has been a cause for concern.
A TransLink spokesperson says an update on the situation is expected on Wednesday.
No estimate has been provided on how long the issues may last.