Ransomware Attack Hits Texas Education Service District

Six school district websites went down as attackers blocked access to computer systems.

by Timothy Chipp, Abilene Reporter-News, Texas / May 11, 2016

(TNS)  — Websites for a number of Big Country school districts, including the Abilene Independent School District, have been affected by a reported cyberattack that crippled the Region 11 Education Service Center's servers Sunday night.

Lori Burton, communications coordinator for the center in White Settlement, said a ransomware attack on the servers left data encrypted and inaccessible. The information technology department has been working to restore the databases, which includes being able to access the websites.

"We don't believe any data was lost or compromised," Burton said. "It's just that it was encrypted."

Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a ransom is paid to regain control. Burton said the center is attempting to rebuild its servers from backups to avoid giving in to the demands of the people who launched the data attack. The ransom demands were not disclosed.

Other Big Country school districts affected by the hack are Brookesmith ISD, Brownwood ISD, Coahoma ISD, Dublin ISD and Panther Creek ISD. The affected school districts contract with Region 11 Education Service Center for website hosting.

Abilene ISD Director of Communications Phil Ashby said he and the school district have not received any complaints about the downed website.

"We worked with one parent who was seeking information on summer technology camp sign-ups," Ashby said. "Virtually all of our internal functions continue to be operational."

Charles Caddell, digital media communications specialist with Abilene ISD, said the district wasn't aware of the hack until Tuesday morning when he was informed by Region 11.

The sites, which were down all day Monday and Tuesday, were believed to be the victim of a massive server failure, he said, until the notice went out about the ransomware attack. Region 11 also posted a notification on its Facebook page Tuesday morning, saying: "Our IT staff has been working around the clock to restore servers and rebuild databases damaged by a ransomware attack. Most services are back online, including email and TxEIS. Work is continuing on Schoolwires websites and Destiny library services. We are sorry for the inconvenience caused by this situation and are putting all resources toward resolving this issue so everyone can get back to business as usual."

Caddell said the attack made him immediately check his own backups of his files because "you never know."

"Nothing can strike fear to make you create your backup like this," he said. "So I've been backing up all my videos, all my files and making sure I have my backup, my third."

Originally, he said, he thought the problem was related to the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness examinations being administered this week.

Brownwood ISD Community Relations Coordinator Charles Musgrove said his district has access to its information aside from the website.

"We don't have any reason to believe anything other than our website, which is hosted with Region 11, has been affected," Musgrove said. "Our email, student and staff information systems, human resource systems, instructional applications and other computer services are on separate systems and are all operational. The only outage has been our external webpage."

©2016 the Abilene Reporter-News (Abilene, Texas), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Newsletters

Platforms & Programs