Ransom paid to unlock Wakulla Co. school computer systems

Published: Sep. 10, 2019 at 10:47 AM EDT
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By: Edan Schultz | WCTV Eyewitness News

September 20, 2019

CRAWFORDVILLE, Fla. (WCTV) — The Wakulla County School District is bringing its computer systems back online as it recovers from a ransomware attack.

This week, the district’s insurance carrier paid a Bitcoin ransom to hackers who had taken control of the computer systems, according to Superintendent Bobby Pearce.

“At this time we are able to revive our systems. We are bringing them back online. It’s a lengthy process,” said Pearce. “We cautiously continue to work through all systems to make sure there’s no other malware.”

The hack began in the first week of September. It significantly affected the district’s transportation program, food service program and library program. Student data, payroll and accounting systems, and employee personal information were not compromised, said Pearce. Email was impacted as well, but a computer forensics team restored that service within 36 hours, according to the superintendent.

Pearce says the school district’s insurance carrier advised the district to negotiate with the ransomware criminals to get the encryption key. The school board approved those negotiations in a meeting Wednesday morning.

The superintendent said the insurance carrier asked him not to discuss how much was paid. He did say it’s significantly less than what the hackers first asked for. He said he felt it best to follow the lead of the people who are the experts in the field.

“They deal in this and have dealt in this,” said the superintendent.

Pearce says had the district decided not to allow negotiations, losing the computer data and rebuilding the system would have been on the school district’s dime. Instead, the issue was resolved with no cost to Wakulla County School District.

The superintendent says to keep its cyber security insurance, the district will now have to change its computer security procedures, do more training for employees, and upgrade its file backup systems, which will cost more money.

The ransomware attack is still under investigation, with the FBI, FDLE and Wakulla County sheriff’s office involved, according to Pearce.

Copyright 2019 WCTV. All rights reserved.

By: Edan Schultz | WCTV Eyewitness News

September 10, 2019

CRAWFORDVILLE, Fla. (WCTV) — Multiple agencies are investigating after hackers infiltrated the Wakulla County School District’s computers.

The school district says the ransomware incident began late last week. A ransomware attack renders data inaccessible through encryption, then seeks payment to unlock it.

In a statement, Superintendent Robert Pearce says when the attack was discovered the district immediately launched an investigation with the help of a forensic firm, and reported the incident to state and federal law enforcement authorities

The sheriff’s office confirms it received the complaint from the school district. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is also investigating, according to a sheriff’s office spokesman.

Employees tell WCTV they began having trouble accessing email last week, and were told Friday that the school system had been hit with the ransomware attack.

“As we work to complete the investigation, we will look for opportunities to further enhance our existing security measures,” said Superintendent Pearce.

Copyright 2019 WCTV. All rights reserved.