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Sweetwater School District System Outage Due to Cyber Attack

The largest secondary school district in California shut down its Internet and student information system after noticing problems with Microsoft systems. It will take weeks to confirm whether personal information was compromised.

Cyber attack
(TNS) — The Sweetwater Union High School District told staff in a letter Friday that its massive systems outage first discovered at the start of last week had been caused by a cybersecurity incident.

The South County district of about 36,000 middle and high school students first discovered problems with its Microsoft systems on Sunday, Feb. 12, according to the teachers union.

The day after the problems were discovered, the district's Internet and student information system were shut down "to ensure that no other systems could be affected," the union said in an email to staff.

For several days, the district would not publicly say whether there had been a cybersecurity breach.

Superintendent Moises Aguirre told staff in a letter Friday that Internet had been restored and that he expected email to be restored by the end of the day or over the weekend. Meanwhile, other district systems, shared files and applications "are being restored as diligently as possible," Aguirre said.

Aguirre said the district did not have evidence that student information had been compromised. Student data is housed in cloud storage locations that were not affected, he said, so the district does not suspect that information was impacted.

Aguirre was less clear about staff data. He said the district does not yet have evidence that staff information was compromised, "but it is possible that may change as our investigation continues."

It will be weeks before the district can confirm whether any employee personal information was compromised, Aguirre said. If it learns information was impacted, it will notify those affected, he said.

"Out of an abundance of caution," the district is offering staff a year's worth of credit-monitoring and identity-protection services from Equifax, Aguirre said.

Sweetwater's outage is one of a number of recent cybersecurity attacks on school districts, including Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified. San Diego Unified notified parents of a threat at the beginning of December, while Los Angeles Unified dealt with a ransomware attack in early September.

©2023 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.