New Kent Schools targeted by ransomware attack

Published: Aug. 27, 2019 at 11:49 PM EDT
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NEW KENT, Va. (WWBT) - New Kent County Public Schools were targeted by ransomware that encrypted the schools district’s files and demanded payment for them to be unlocked.

Director of IT at Richmond-based Network Data Security Experts (NDSE) Michael Pfaff helps businesses detect vulnerabilities in their security networks and provides them with the tools to backup and secure private data. He says depending on what cyber criminals have access to the damage could be crippling.

“That’s not just the school’s information,” said Pfaff. “That’s the students, the student’s parents, the parent’s addresses, phone numbers email addresses, information that other hackers need.”

Pfaff says that during ransomware, cyber criminals demand that the ransom be paid in Bitcoin, a form of digital crypto-currency, because it’s nearly impossible to trace back to an original source.

In a letter to the community, Superintendent Brian Nichols said the school district has notified the FBI and said it is not believed any personal identification information was taken.

“The files located on our internal hard drive have been encrypted so that we are unable to access these files without paying a ransom," the letter said. “We cannot access many of the documents and data the faculty and staff have created and this will cause an undue burden as we work to start school on time and ready for our students to learn."

Pfaff says there may be no reason why the school system targeted. In many cases, he says cyber criminals have already flooded the web with Ransomware-laced emails or messages just waiting for you fall victim.

“That’s all it takes is the clicking on one link in an email to bring down an entire infrastructure,” said Pfaff.

The county has hired cyber-security experts and a technical team to investigate the incident and bring the encrypted files back online.

“If they do not have any solid backups or if there is any data loss, it’s going to be a lot more expensive and there is going to be a lot of work that needs to be done after this no matter what," said Pfaff. “We’re talking about municipalities that have spent tens of millions of dollars just recover from things like this."

Nichols said schools will open on time and the district’s open house event will continue as scheduled.

“We will work through our registration process and our bus routing,” Nichols said. “We will make sure our students are scheduled for their classes the first day of school. One thing that this cannot take from us is our will to serve the students and families of New Kent and to be ready with a smile and a plan to be ready to learn on the first day of school. We are #NewKentStrong and we will work through this together."

Pfaff says securing a network in this day and age can be difficult and that simple antivirus software may not be enough because cyber criminals are always trying to stay one step ahead of the employing new social engineering tactics and exploiting new technologies to access private data.

To ensure that your private information remains safe and that you are prepared for future cyber attacks, Pfaff recommends that all businesses, school systems and individuals do the following:

  • Change your passwords and make sure the new passwords are long and complicated.
  • Add two-factor authentication to your bank accounts and emails or anything else online or on a computer that requires username or password.
  • Invest in next-generation antivirus software and threat protection agents.
  • And ensure that you have complete backup files in the event that your network systems become compromised.

“It doesn’t matter what size business you are,” said Pfaff. “If you’re not taking the steps necessary, if you’re not putting the investment into protecting your data and your customers data, you’re susceptible.”

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