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Frustrated Parents React To Hartford School Cancellation After Ransomware Attack

A cyber expert said ransomware attacks on schools becoming more prevalent.

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Hartford Public Schools will be ready to return to class Wednesday, a day after originally planned. They were forced to cancel the first day of school Tuesday due to a ransomware attack. The district said the system has been repaired and no student or employee’s data was stolen or compromised.

The cancellation however, took many parents by surprise. It also left them disappointed. School was supposed to be back in session, in person for the first time since March.

“I was kind of upset but then again we really can’t do anything about it,” said Madeline Cruz, whose son was supposed to start pre-K classes Tuesday

Cruz was among the 18,000 parents notified of the ransomware attack on Hartford Public Schools. The district said the ransomware virus caused a major outage to critical systems. They were able to rebuild some components but not the one pertaining to transportation and communication with bus services.

While notification went out as early as 5:30 a.m., not every parent received word.

“I was hoping that my daughter was going to school today,” said Margarita Vega, who went to drop off at her daughter’s elementary school unaware of the cancellation.

The district said the police are involved to investigate where the ransomware originated. Meanwhile, parents are upset.

“I think that’s crazy,” said Tamesha Philpot, who has three teenage children in the Hartford school system. “Our children need their education and to hold a ransom for their education is ridiculous.”

Tim Weber is the director of security services for ADNET Technologies, an IT services firm in Farmington. He said he has seen an upward trend in these attacks because it’s lucrative for hackers who hold school data in exchange for money.

“Until these attacks become no longer financially viable they’ll continue to happen and actually increase,” said Weber.

Weber said schools around the country have invested in cyber insurance, which sometimes pays the ransom.  Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said Tuesday that Hartford does have cyber insurance.

According to Weber, other big cities including Miami, Baltimore and Atlanta have been victimized in similar ways. In those cases, Weber said, it took up to two weeks to restore all capabilities.

Adding to the concern, schools are depending on technology to do remote schooling. Something that could make them a bigger target.

“If somebody’s more reliant on their systems they’re potentially more likely to pay the ransom if they can’t recover,” said Weber.

To protect against hacks like this, Weber advises all business have systems in place that detects the attacks as they happen, and train your employees not to click on suspicious e-mails.

Fueling frustration for parents is the length of time it has been since students were in a classroom. With the pandemic forcing students to learn from home since March, the desire to return in person was very strong.

“I want my children to be able to learn and get their education without all of this because this is just going to set them back even further,” said Philpot.

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