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L.A. Yellow Cab's phone lines tied up in hacker attack and ransom demanded, firm says

Yellow Cab of Los Angeles has had its primary phone lines tied up by hackers since Wednesday night, forcing customer requests to be rerouted to a backup dispatch center, a company spokesman said Friday.

Customer data doesn’t appear to have been compromised in the attack, spokesman Marco Soto said. It’s unclear who’s behind the ongoing digital attack, but Gardena-based L.A. Yellow Cab has been asked to pay an unspecified ransom to stop it.

Online hackers in recent years have targeted businesses nationwide with a variety of tactics, disrupting corporate operations until they receive a payment or are booted out by cybersecurity experts. Just two weeks ago, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center paid a $17,000 ransom in bitcoin to a hacker who seized control of the hospital's computer systems and refused to give it back until paid.

Authorities have urged businesses not to pay because getting a reward emboldens attackers to seek more victims.

Soto said Yellow Cab was hoping to stem the problem as soon as late Friday without making a payment. Technical details of the attack were not immediately available.

The incident comes at a difficult time for the traditional taxi industry, which is seeing customers and drivers switch to ride-hailing apps including Uber and Lyft. Last year, Los Angeles officials mandated that all taxi operators provide similar apps to help even the playing field.

Yellow Cab rides requested through the app Curb haven’t been affected by the attack, Soto said.

Starting Wednesday night, people dialing (424) 222-2222 and other Yellow Cab lines heard a busy signal until technicians powered on a system to push them to a huge, nationwide call center in St. George, Utah, from the smaller, 10-to-20-person regional operation in Gardena, Soto said.

“It’s a tough competitive situation for the drivers right now, and this isn’t good,” Soto said. “It was an attempt to hurt their business. They count on phone orders.”

Meanwhile, dispatchers in Gardena are anxiously waiting for phones to start ringing again.

Yellow Cab of Los Angeles has about 750 vehicles and 1,000 drivers, making it the largest fleet in the county, Soto said.

The FBI said it was unaware of the attack. And the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Assn. said it hasn’t heard of similar attacks, a spokesman said.

Chat with me on Twitter @peard33

Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.

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