Oxford School District recovering from computer hack

Published 12:00 pm Tuesday, February 23, 2016

While some progress has been made, the Oxford School District has a bit more to go before fully recovering from a ransomware computer attack earlier this month.

The district expects at least one more system to be back online and infection free by the end of the week.

“We still have quite a ways to go,” Technology Coordinator Mike Fortenberry said.

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So far, the district and school websites, the cafeteria system, the financial software and the educational technology PowerSchool and Schoology are all online and operating.

However, some portions of the system have not been as quick to recover. The library software is expected to be back online for use Wednesday at the latest. It is unknown when the transportation and bus routing software will be operational.

Ransomware can be contracted though a variety of ways including an infected email or a website advertisement. Once it is in the system, it encrypts files and demands money be sent in exchange.

The ransom demanded from OSD was in the neighborhood of $9,000 and infected 80 computers in the district; however, Superintendent Brian Harvey said the district did not pay the ransom.

Fortenberry said the technology staff has been working to restore the systems safely and without damaging any existing data since the Feb. 7 hack.

The data that has been restored so far has been successful.

“It has been a long, slow process,” Fortenberry said. “We’re doing all we can.”

The FBI and Oxford Police Department are also now involved in a criminal investigation to determine who is involved in the ransomware hack.

On the rise

Ransomeware is a type of hack that often shows itself as a pop-up or spam that claims the user has violated a federal law resulting in a fine that must be paid. According to the FBI, this type of crime is on the rise and the victims are often private users.

Harvey said the cyberattack interfered with classroom instruction and kept individuals from accessing school district and network-related files, but classroom instruction continued.

The Oxford School District is not the first institution hit by ransomware. Based on reports, ransomware attacks have become increasingly common in latest years.

Since January 2013, there had been 100,000 cases of recorded ransomware attacks. By the end of that year, the number skyrocketed to 600,000, according to antivirus software creator Symantec.

The Associated Press contributed to this report