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City Hall cyber ‘vandalism’ latest in a series of incidents

It may be time for city and state agencies to beef up their Internet security.

Boston City Hall has joined a list of public agencies that have made news recently when their presence in cyberspace was compromised by what officials say were outside parties.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Tuesday that Boston City Hall had experienced a 20-minute cyberattack. The city’s technical expert likened the intrusion to Internet “vandalism,” rather than a full-fledged hack.

“No city accounts or systems were accessed by unauthorized people and no city data was at risk,” said City Hall spokeswoman Bonnie McGilpin. “This was an unsophisticated, nuisance attack whereby someone clogged up our Internet connection with random traffic.”

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Walsh spoke about the cyberattack during a news conference to address concerns raised by e-mail threats made to the Los Angeles school system this week.

The Boston incident was not connected to the threats made in Los Angeles, and was unrelated to terrorism, officials stressed.

But it marked the fourth time in as many months that a city or state agency has been in the news for Internet interference of some kind.

In September, the Boston Redevelopment Authority said that their Twitter account was hacked when someone sent out a tweet dissociating the agency from South Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger.

“While watching ‘Black Mass’ this weekend, a reminder that no confirmed evidence links Whitey Bulger to any BRA corruption,” the tweet said. It was quickly deleted.

Officials from the BRA said the account had been compromised, and that they were taking steps to thwart future security breaches.

A month later, it was the Boston Police Department that blamed online hooligans for taking over their social media presence.

The department’s Twitter account sent out a message to its more than 300,000 followers that read “asl#,” which is typically shorthand for “Age/Sex/Location,” and commonly used in Internet chatrooms.

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Much like the BRA, police said the tweet was the result of a “hack.”

Then, in November, the MBTA was alerted to “evidence of irregular voting patterns” after someone apparently rigged an online contest promoted by the transit agency to pick the paint design schemes for the new Orange, Red, and Green Line traincars.

Vote totals were skewed, with many coming from the same computer in rapid succession.

Before the media began asking questions, the agency was on its way to picking a paint scheme not by popular vote, but as a result of Internet hijinks.

McGilpin said those three incidents were unrelated to Tuesday’s hiccup at City Hall.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.