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Rockland Public Schools Hit by Ransomware Attack

Rockland Public Schools in Massachusetts is working with the Department of Homeland Security to assess the damage from a ransomware attack this week that affected desktop computers and servers.

(TNS) — The Rockland Public School district was the victims of a ransomware attack Monday night that affected desktop computers and servers, but not the laptops used by students.

Superintendent Alan Cron said the district is running a special program on the school district's system at the request of agents with the Department of Homeland Security to figure out how bad the damage is.

"We're a very cloud-based district and our cloud-based services have not been interrupted," Cron said in a Thursday telephone interview.

Cron said four Homeland Security investigators were at the school district on Thursday working on the investigation.

"They're taking this very seriously, as are we," he said.

There is no cost associated with the attack yet, although it may require many of the computers in the school district have hard drives wiped and operating systems reinstalled, he said.

School committee member Dan Biggins said the homeland security agents have been helping coach school officials through the recovery process.

"We were as prepared as we could have been, but we need to look at what happened here and stay as safe as we can for the future," Biggins said.

Computers were shut down on Tuesday and Wednesday, Biggins said.

Cron said teachers had to get creative in the classroom because of the attack, but Rockland uses Google for much of its learning platforms and Google's services were not affected. Students use Chromebooks, loaded with a Google operating system, and they were not affected.

Cron said many of the administrative tasks at the school district are handled remotely and were not affected, like payroll.

The district will have to make up for one day of state mandated testing in the elementary school from Monday, but testing took place as planned the rest of the week.

"We were told there was nothing we could have done to avert this," Cron said. "Our systems were much more than adequate, we have excellent systems, and this type of breach is, as we know, happening across the country and across the world."

Getting answers to who is responsible and how it happened could take days, weeks, or months, he said.

The attack also impacted the town's cable access network, WRPS, which normally broadcasts meetings.

General Manager David Murphy said in an email that the network was unable to broadcast Tuesday night's select board meeting live because they had to take their video server off network following the attack. A video of the meeting was posted to YouTube. WRPS will not be able to broadcast live meetings until the server can come back online.

Boston FBI Spokeswoman Kristen Setera said she could not confirm if the office was investigating the attack because they have a policy of protecting the identity of victims.

Setera said in an email that the Boston FBI office receives ransomware attacks two to three times a week from the areas it covers: Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, The number of attacks reported is increasing year-over-year. In 2020, there were 90 attacks reported to the Boston office, compared to 53 in 2018.

"In most of these incidents, ransomware was executed outside work hours, underscoring the need for organizations to have after-hours emergency plans in place," she said.

Setera said victims can report attacks to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center or call the FBI office directly at 857-386-2000.

Cron said the school district went through a year of lockdowns and remote schooling.

"We've done, in my opinion, an incredible job in this community through COVID and this is just a blip on the screen and we're going to be fine," he said. "We dealt with COVID and we're not going to let these people interrupt our mission. We're going to be fine."

Rockland Police Lt. Nicholas Zeoli said in an email that they are assisting with the investigation.

©2021 The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.