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RMV vehicle inspection system restart is ‘unknown,’ company executive says

The Registry of Motor Vehicles is warning a shutdown of the inspection program caused by a malware attack could last into next week.
The Registry of Motor Vehicles is warning a shutdown of the inspection program caused by a malware attack could last into next week.Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff

Massachusetts drivers will be unable to get their cars inspected through the weekend — and likely into next week — the state’s Registry of Motor Vehicles said Friday as a state contractor scrambled to restore the breached software underpinning the inspection system.

The company, Wisconsin-based Applus Technologies, provides the software behind the vehicle inspection system at hundreds of auto shops and gas stations across the state. But Applus was forced to take it offline in Massachusetts and other states earlier this week in response to a malware attack, and does not yet know when it will return.

Applus and the RMV said they must conduct an exhaustive review of the company’s system and its connection with the state agency before a restart can take place.

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“At this point, it is too early in the process for us to give you an exact schedule,” Applus chief executive Darrin Greene said Friday during a teleconference with Massachusetts inspection site operators.

Mary Jo Griffin, the RMV’s director of vehicle safety and compliance, said Applus remains in the earliest stage of addressing the problem.

“The first [step] is remediation, and we are still in that phase,” she said. “Remediation is just trying to assess and understand the situation, and the options and the time it is going to take.”

By late Friday, the RMV said it was unlikely the inspections would start again by Tuesday.

With customers shut out from inspections at the start of a new month, the RMV has asked law enforcement to show discretion to drivers with expired stickers. Officials estimate there are between 40,000 to 50,000 vehicles that still have a March sticker and require a $35 inspection. There are typically about 15,000 per day statewide, with as many as 20,000 inspections conducted on the first and last two days of the month, according to the RMV.

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The RMV also said it has notified Applus it is in breach of its contract and could face financial penalties.

The inspection problems surfaced on Wednesday and have affected other states that use Applus as a contractor, including Connecticut and Georgia. Applus also lists llinois, New York, Washington, and parts of Utah as clients.

The issue has disrupted business for hundreds of Massachusetts auto service companies that perform inspections. Matt LeLacheur, co-executive director of the New England Service Station & Automotive Repair Association, said service stations are still paying wages despite missing the revenue from the inspections.

“Every day the business is incurring an expense that they have no revenue against,” he said. “They say you’ll get the revenue back [when the system returns], but you’re never going to get back the expense of the days.”

Applus signed a $29 million contract with the state in 2016, and quickly encountered issues when its system launched a year later. Many inspection stations initially struggled to use it and reported a number of technical issues as they transitioned to the new equipment and software.

Those problems appeared to be uneven, affecting some companies but not others. Business owners were furious as many customers moved to competitors with working technology.

This time, all stations are unable to inspect vehicles, putting them on even footing, LeLacheur said. RMV officials said that when the network is ready to return, it will go online for all stations at the same time to avoid similar issues.

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LeLacheur said some inspection sites are considering options to recoup financial losses, but declined to say how. On the teleconference Friday, Greene, the Applus CEO, said the company will take financial compensation to station owners “under consideration.”

At the meeting, many of the questions were focused on cybersecurity and whether the malware attack could threaten their businesses’ digital records and data privacy.

Greene said there is “no evidence of that type of theft,” but that an investigation is underway. It was too soon to determine the cause of the breach, he said.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated where Applus Technologies is headquartered. The company is based in Wisconsin.


Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro. John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.