NJ school district cancels final exams after ransomware attack crashes computers | Rare Techy


Tenafly Public Schools went back to basics this week — using overhead projectors, paper and pencils and hands-on activities in classrooms — as a ransomware attack crippled the district’s computer system.

Bergen County School District has canceled final exams for all high school students in the district as it tries to bring its system back online with the help of cybersecurity consultants, officials said.

District Communications Manager Christine Corliss said Tenefly Public School District administrators first became aware of the security incident Thursday. This includes encrypting data via ransomware on some computers on the district’s network.

The district’s technology department responded “immediately” by isolating the devices, shutting down the district-wide computer system, launching an investigation and hiring outside cybersecurity experts, she said.

“The technology team, along with these experts, are literally working around the clock to fix the problem,” Corliss said Wednesday.

Hackers use ransomware to encrypt data and render it unusable until an online payment or ransom is made to regain access. Ransomware incidents have become more common in recent years, affecting school districts, municipalities and even entire counties.

Last month, Somerset County suffered a cyber security breach that temporarily shut down the county email system. Last year, school districts in Hillsborough and Bernards Township had to close their schools for a day after suspected cyber attacks.

It’s unclear who was responsible for the ransomware attack on Tenafly or how much money they demanded.

When asked if the school district would pay the ransom, Corliss said, “There was nothing definite at this time.” However, law enforcement agencies are involved in the investigation, she added.

Tenafly Police Chief Robert Chamberlain said local authorities have notified the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office and the New Jersey State Police Cyber ​​Crimes Unit of the ransomware crime. But the main agency investigating the incident is the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “Something like this is beyond our capabilities,” Chamberlain said.

Tenafly staff, parents and students were notified of the security breach Thursday morning and are receiving regular updates through the Tenafly Public Schools notification system, which operates outside the district, officials said.

“I know this is an issue that affects us all. While we believe this was an isolated incident, we are committed to taking steps to help prevent these types of incidents from happening again,” Superintendent Shauna DeMarco wrote in an update sent out Saturday.

Classes have not been canceled but the curriculum has been changed, school officials said.

Instead of relying on Google Classroom for science class, kids are engaging in STEM activities, Corliss said. Students are also intrigued by old-school overhead projectors—relics from a bygone era before dedicated computer projection systems and interactive whiteboards.

“We have system problems and we have to deal with that, but it puts you back for a while to do things the old way. There is something to be said for that too. So, we’re doing more face-to-face, more phone calls, less email,” Corliss said.

The district announced Tuesday that all final exams for high school students have been canceled in light of the ransomware attack. There are no plans to reorganize them.

Corliss said the decision was made “primarily because we don’t think it’s fair to the students.”

Students cannot access Google Classroom, Genesis, email, or similar services.

Ironically, Tenafly Public Schools had completed a technical audit and was in the process of finalizing its recommendations when the attack occurred, officials said.

Some of those improvements will begin to be implemented as the district restores its systems after the ransomware attack, so it may take some time for the district’s computer system to be operational.

Corliss said Wednesday that he could not provide an exact timeline for when the restoration process would be completed.

“Right now, it is progressing smoothly. We hope it will only be a few days, but we don’t want to put a firm time stamp on it just to be safe,” she said.

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Jackie Roman can be reached at jroman@njadvancemedia.com.


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