PULASKI COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Pulaski County Public Schools said they are taking measures to keep the personal information of students, staff, and families safe after a cyber attack last week. The breach was discovered back on Nov. 5, and district officials brought in outside help to try and contain it.
School officials said they’ve been hard at work behind the scenes after that attack, working with legal counsel, technical experts, and cybersecurity professionals to solve the problem.
“After three or four hours, we found out that it was a pretty significant attack,” Pulaski County Public School Superintendent Dr. Robert Graham said. “They left little notes inside the servers that they attacked that said we have control of you basically and you’re not going to be able to do anything until you negotiate with us.”
He says the district’s IT team caught the attack fast enough that backup servers could be used to fix a lot of the problems. He said no funds were used to negotiate with the hackers for access to the servers.
In the aftermath, things have looked a little differently in the classroom. The school announced it was giving students free lunches to avoid using funds from student accounts.
“A significant challenge, inputting attendance with paper- pencil,” said Graham. “Transportation software was damaged as well, but luckily they keep paper copies so we had no problems there.”
Students never lost access to their Chromebooks and are still able to use them. The superintendent said their learning management systems that were damaged are back up and the cafeteria software was deemed safe to use as well.
Graham said there is still a lot of work to do. He said the last message from the hackers was a threat to share information until they gave money.
“We have no reason to expect that any data has been compromised, and we’ve sent that information to our school community. I think we’ll know more in the next couple of days, so we’ll see what happens,” said Graham.
The district announced that it will be providing identity monitoring and protection services for this year’s faculty, staff, and students. Mary Hamilton, a computer expert, said it’s something parents should keep up with after services end.
“They’re going to be able to provide that typically for a year that’s paid for. I think parents, it just has to become a part of the habit, going in and checking. So if you see something suspicious, it’s probably from this. Because hackers aren’t going to do something right now — it’s six months from now, 12 months from now, 18 months from now, three years from now,” said Hamilton, the CEO of Mad Data.
She goes on to say parents can be proactive by monitoring their child’s credit score to make sure nothing looks suspicious.
As they move on with making sure things are secure, Graham said he is grateful for the community’s patience and understanding.
“We’re working to make sure that we continue to keep everyone safe and realize that these happen, but we want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to keep it from happening again, ensuring that our community understands that we’re working hard to resolve the situation and get back to where we were as quick as possible,” Graham said.
So far, the one thing that has been impacted is student midterm reports. School officials say parents can still log into the partner portal to monitor student progress. Teachers will call parents and guardians of students with academic, attendance, or behavior issues.
For any parents that have questions or concerns, Graham says do not hesitate to contact the school district.