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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