Athens ISD pays $50K for release of data in ransomware attack

Education

ATHENS, Texas (KETK) – Athens ISD Board of Trustees has agreed to pay a $50,000 ransom for school data that was taken in a criminal ransomware attack.

The attack targeted data stored on district servers, backup systems, and hundreds of computers. As a result, access to data has been blocked including teacher communications, student schedules, grades, and assignments.

Further investigation revealed that no information has been taken, only encrypted to prevent access until a ransom was paid.

“The first thing we want to do is ensure our staff and student families that, to the best of our knowledge, no personal data has been compromised,” said Superintendent Dr. Janie Sims. “Whoever is behind this attack has not taken the information; they have encrypted it so that we have no access unless we meet their ransom demand.”

An emergency meeting took place, where the Board of Trustees agreed to pay $50,000 to the ones who are behind the ransomware attack.

“We can’t afford to not pay it,” said AISD Board President Alicea Elliott. “It would take us months to rebuild all that data so that we could start school.”

AISD affirms they do have cyberattack included in its insurange coverage, and a claim is being processed.

“I want our families to know we will keep them informed,” said Sims. “This is a rapidly evolving and complex situation, and we are still working out the level to which we’ve been impacted and how best to respond.”

Members of the AISD Technology Department are working closely with the Region 10 Education Service Center and the Center for Internet Security to resolve the situation.

“They have indicated [our IT department] could not have done more to mitigate this happening,” Sims told the board, noting later: “This has happened to at least six or seven other districts in East Texas. We prepared as much as we could. There’s no way to be 100 percent safe.”

According to the cybersecurity research firm Emsisoft, the U.S. was hit by an unprecedented barrage of ransomware attacks in 2019 that impacted at least 966 government agencies, educational institutions and healthcare providers.

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