A ransomware attack on Richmond Community schools has given students a few more days of holiday break. Classes were scheduled to proceed the winter holidays, but a virus froze a myriad of servers and other systems.
(TNS) — A holiday cyberattack on Richmond Community Schools means students will get a couple more days off.
Cue the collective cheers.
Classes were set to resume Thursday after the winter holidays. But, an early-morning announcement on the district's website said a virus paralyzed several servers, and that would take time to fix. Still, don't expect to be able to call the district to get information: Phones were one of the systems hit.
Other affected systems included copiers, classroom technology — and heating.
It was unclear from the district's announcement who — or what — unleashed the virus or what the attackers are seeking. But the district, which has about 1,400 students, said the virus was ransomware, which usually refers to a scheme that electronically hijacks a system or files until the victims pay a ransom.
The district said student and staff information appears to be safe.
Some hackers try to sell personal information that they can glean from records.
More cheers, but muted ones.
By late morning, Richmond Police Chief David Teske said the district had yet to report the attack as a crime, but he wasn't sure why. In general, he said, it's almost always best to report suspicious activity to law enforcement.
Without more information, Teske added, it is difficult to say whether it was a student prank; an overseas syndicate that doesn't realize the difference between tiny Richmond, Michigan, and much larger Richmond, Virginia, or a sophisticated scheme to extort school officials.
"I don't know the extent of it," Teske said. "Everybody reaches out to the Internet."
But, he said, it seems odd that hackers would target such a small city. Unless the cyber-savvy extortionists think smaller government agencies are just more vulnerable because they can't afford to spend big bucks on digital security.
According to the FBI, these kinds of cyberattacks and threats are increasing every year and do severe damage. In addition to schools and governments, digital assailants are targeting businesses and even people's home computers and electronic systems.
"The incidents were not simply expensive inconveniences," Emisoft, a cybersecurity firm based in Nelson, New Zealand, posted on its blog. The company estimates nearly 1,000 government agencies, schools, and health care companies were targeted last year and it "put people’s health, safety, and lives at risk."
The firm noted attacks forced emergency patients to go to other medical centers, hampered 911 services, and made it more difficult to maintain order.
Earlier this month, the City of Pensacola, Florida, was attacked by Maze ransomware. The group behind the incident threatened to start releasing files if a $1 million payment wasn’t made, according to a recent news report.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency in July after hackers targeted three school districts. Phones and computer equipment shut down, and electronic files suddenly became inaccessible.
In June, local officials for Riviera Beach, Florida, agreed to have its insurance carrier pay hackers nearly $600,000 in Bitcoin, a hard-to-trace digital currency, to hackers who had disabled the small city's computer systems.
A month before that, hackers held Baltimore hostage.
Schools in the Richmond district — Richmond High, Richmond Middle, and Will L. Lee Elementary — will remain closed Thursday and Friday, the district said, as techs frenetically attempt to fix the problems.
©2020 the Detroit Free Press Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Looking for the latest gov tech news as it happens? Subscribe to GT newsletters.