Students in Hartford are going back to school today after a ransomware attack caused an outage of critical systems and forced the city's first day of school to be postponed yesterday.
District Faces Challenges Ahead in New School Year
As students head back to school today, there are still some challenges ahead for the district.
They said they haven't heard back from about 1,800 students on if they're returning to the classroom. Hartford Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez said they have been preparing as though they are showing up.
Another concern is how they're going to track absenteeism for those learning remotely. Torres-Rodriguez said they are still waiting for guidance from the state. More than 25 percent of Hartford kindergarteners and 30 percent of high schoolers were regularly absent last year.
"In a district that before COVID had a challenge with chronic absenteeism absolutely we want to make sure we have many ways to connect with and then monitor connection with our students and our families," Torres-Rodriguez said.
At this point, the district is planning a hybrid model with some students learning at home while others are at school.
Today, students in grades three through five, seven and nine will return for in-person learning.
Ransomware Attack Postpones First Day of School
Students in Hartford were scheduled to begin school yesterday, however, city officials said a ransomware attack brought down critical systems and they had to postpone the first day until today.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said the attacker first gained access to the systems on Thursday, but did not do anything. On Saturday, investigators said the virus actually attacked the systems and the IT team worked through the weekend to access and restore the affected systems. Now the IT team is going system by system and server by server to restore the systems, Bronin added.
According to Bronin, the City of Hartford including Hartford Public Schools has about 300 servers and more than 200 of them were attacked in the ransomware virus attack.
Torres-Rodriguez said the city was able to restore the student information systems around midnight on Tuesday.
“It houses all of our student addresses, our grades, our attendance. It’s all housed there. It’s all been fully restored,” she said.
A different system that's important for some students attending in-person learning on the first day of school could not be fully restored in time to begin school on Tuesday morning.
"This includes the system that communicates our transportation routes to our bus company and it is preventing our ability to operate schools on Tuesday," Hartford Public School officials said in part in a statement.
Because of the attack, there was no in-person or online learning on Tuesday. Classes will resume Wednesday now that critical systems, including the bus transportation database, were restored, a statement from district officials confirmed.
Bronin said they believed the system that routes the school buses was successfully restored on Monday, however, later in the night, they realized it wasn't.
Torres-Rodriguez added that the ransomware virus did not have any impact on the student learning platforms.
“A ransomware is a type of malware that once it infects a computer it encrypts the data on that computer, the files and folders, documents and everything," University of New Haven Assistant Professor of Computer Science Dr. Vahid Behzadan said.
"And then it asks the owner of those files to pay some ransom, some money to be able to access those files again, to decrypt those files," Behzadan added.
This ransomware attack was the most extensive and significant attack in the last five years in the city, Bronin said. About a year ago, Bronin said the city invested in a cyber security system that significantly limited the damage of this attack.
Ransomware Attack Impacted Multiple Hartford Systems
The ransomware virus attack also had an impact on other systems throughout the city. Bronin said because it was identified early, they were able to isolate specific systems and there are some that still need to be restored.
Some of the systems that were impacted over the weekend include public safety systems, according to Bronin. He urged residents that there was no operational impact that could have impeded response to service at that time.
Most of the systems that were impacted for Hartford Police Department were inconvenience-type impacts including scheduling, added police.
City officials said they do not believe any private information of students or employees or sensitive financial information was stolen in the attack.
The Hartford Police Department and FBI are investigating the attack.