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April 30, 2021 11:15 AM, EDT

TRB’s Registration Database Hacked in Ransomware Attack

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The Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting registration services database was compromised in March by cybercriminals in a ransomware attack, the organization announced April 28.

“As a result of the attack, personal information for those who registered for TRB annual meetings from 2015-2021, may have been exposed and obtained in the attack,” TRB said in an email to all conference registrants since 2015.

The vendor, J. Spargo & Associates Inc., based in Fairfax, Va., alerted TRB to the hack on March 14, TRB said.

“Spargo reported that its backup membership database was compromised by cybercriminals, who used malware to encrypt certain parts of the vendor’s systems in a ransomware attack,” the email said. “As a result of the attack, if you registered for the TRB Annual Meeting from 2015-2021, registration information that was held in the vendor’s system may have been exposed and obtained by the cybercriminals.”

However, the email said that the hackers did not gain access to credit card or Social Security number information, but said that such personal information as name, email address, phone number, job title, organizational affiliation and date of birth may have been compromised, and passwords used by exhibitors to access the exhibition database may have been accessed.

“A small group of TRB annual participants provided driver’s license information or student identification information to the vendor, which may have also been accessed by the cybercriminals.”

In 2021, TRB’s annual meeting had record attendance of roughly 20,000, according to Paul Mackie, director of communications for TRB. In prior recent years, the annual meeting has been attended by roughly 15,000, Mackie said.

TRB is part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, providing leadership in transportation improvements and innovation through “trusted, timely, impartial and evidence-based information exchange, research and advice regarding all modes of transportation,” according to its webpage.

The vendor told TRB that to protect data and mitigate potential identity theft, it met the cybercriminal’s ransomware demand. The vendor has advised TRB that it received assurances from the cybercriminal and third-party forensic experts that the data were not further disseminated, and that Spargo believes the data accessed by the cybercriminal has not been misused.

The vendor said it is working with federal authorities to investigate the matter and that it would keep TRB informed as the investigation unfolds, TRB said.

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TRB said it has also requested that the vendor provide detailed information regarding security and remediation measures that are being implemented subsequent to the incident.

Based on the vendor’s disclosures that no financial information or Social Security numbers were compromised, TRB said it does not believe there is a need for attendees to currently take any action at this time. “As a best practice, we recommend you remain vigilant and promptly report any suspicious activity or suspected identity theft to the proper authorities,” the email said.

“You should use caution when deciding whether to respond to any correspondence that you do not recognize,” TRB said. “If you think that your information has been used in an attempt to steal your identity, please visit https://identitytheft.gov, which offers resources to report identity theft and develop a recovery plan.”

Spargo did not respond to a request for comment at press time. In a LinkedIn post, Spargo’s owner, John Spargo, said that for years his company has been involved with events worldwide.

“Although we do not yet know all the details of this breach, in the spirit of transparency, TRB wanted to share what we do know at this time and what we are doing to address it,” Neil Pedersen, TRB’s executive director, said in a statement to Transport Topics. “TRB has also requested that the vendor provide detailed information regarding security and remediation measures that are being implemented subsequent to the incident.”

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