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Ransomware Attack on New York Boarding School Exposes SSNs

A cyber attack on Emma Willard School last week resulted in the theft of employee social security numbers and financial information. The school is now providing free credit and identity theft-monitoring services.

Ransomware Article Image_CIS_Mar 2020
(TNS) — Emma Willard School has been dealing with a ransomware attack that struck the school last week, school Head Jennifer Rao said in a letter to the school community.

Personal financial information for some members of the Emma Willard community was stolen. Employees’ Social Security numbers were also taken, she said in the letter.

Officials at the private high school for girls in Troy say they aren’t yet sure how much hackers were able to take. They think only employees’ Social Security numbers were stolen, but it’s possible more numbers were taken, Rao said.

“We have notified law enforcement and continue to work closely with external cybersecurity experts to confirm what data was accessed,” she said.

Often, ransomware attacks take control of all computers on the same system, displaying a message demanding a certain amount of money in exchange for releasing the system to its users. If the users refuse, the system can be entirely wiped or seeded with viruses.

Some local businesses and municipalities have successfully fought back by wiping their systems themselves and restoring from backups, a job that can take days.

An attack on the town of Moreau’s computers on Dec. 24, 2019, required 30 man-hours to restore the systems.

Many municipalities and businesses have turned to IT platforms to safeguard their computer systems, but now ransomware is focusing on those platforms. It was an attack through an IT service that breached Moreau’s security.

In late June, Kaseya platforms worldwide were attacked. That platform is used by many IT firms for local businesses. Between 800 and 1,500 businesses may have had their data compromised in that attack, according to a report on CNN.

Emma Willard officials did not offer details on how the school handled the attack and did not respond to calls seeking comment.

“We were fortunate that our IT security measures discovered the attack early and we took immediate steps to stop the attack and respond in partnership with external cybersecurity experts. Unfortunately, some data was illegally accessed and removed from our systems,” Rao said in her letter.

The school is providing free credit and identity theft monitoring services to those who were affected.

©2021 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.