Hackers hit Virginia school district days before school year starts

Ransomware
operators compromised the New Kent County Public Schools system in the State of
Virginia this week, holding students’ data ransom, in the latest of a long
string of cyber-attacks targeting school systems across the United States.

The school
district’s superintendent, Brian J. Nichols, said in a message to families Tuesday that
files on the district’s internal systems were encrypted in a ransomware attack,
causing “an undue burden as we work to start school on time and ready for our
students to learn.”

“We are
unable to access these files without paying a ransom,” Nichols said. It isn’t
clear if the school district intends to pay the ransom. The sum demanded by the
hackers is also undisclosed.

Administrators
are working to rebuild the systems with the help of a team of cybersecurity
experts. The school district has also enlisted the help of the FBI to investigate
the attack. Based on the preliminary findings, investigators don’t believe the
attackers obtained any personal identifying information.

Despite the
hurdles, New Kent County Public Schools will open on time, the superintendent
said.

“Our open
house events will continue as scheduled. We will work through our registration
process and our bus routing.  We will
make sure our students are scheduled for their classes the first day of school,”
Nichols said.

Ransomware is
among the most prolific forms of malware creeping its way into virtually any
kind of computer system across every industry, including financial
institutions, hospitals, schools, as well as critical infrastructures like
energy supply. Ransomware operators continue to amass huge profits due to lax
cybersecurity practices and / or technologies employed by their victims. The
best defense against ransomware attacks is to keep regular backups of mission-critical
data offline, on a secluded infrastructure.

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