Cyberattack Wrecks Return to School for Mass. District

A cyberattack forced a Massachusetts school district to close for a day, just as kids were about to return to the classroom, and then revert to remote learning for most grades. Haverhill Public Schools made a public announcement when the district computer system was hit with a ransomware attack. School district officials told local media that the IT department had noticed early on the morning of Wednesday, April 7, that "something was wrong with the system." The staff shut the network off "before large-scale corruption of the system occurred."

By Friday, the district told staff and families that cloud-based systems—voice-over-IP phones, email, Google applications and various learning programs—would be "returned to working order." However, Wi-Fi inside school buildings wouldn't be available, making those same programs inaccessible from classrooms.

While IT worked on bringing services back online, early learners in grades preK-4 continued in-person learning, and everybody else returned to remote instruction. Teachers teaching remotely were told to do so off-site.

By Monday, April 12, internet was still unavailable in schools. However, the district made the decision to bring all students in pre-K to grade 6 back for in-person instruction (with the exception of those enrolled in the school system's remote learning academy) and keep everybody else at home for remote learning.

In a message on Monday, Superintendent Margaret Marotta warned the school community that the residual effects of the attack could last for many weeks to come: "As we continue our IT recovery process, we have been advised that a common time frame for a well-managed ransomware recovery effort is one to two weeks," she wrote. "It is important to state that 'recovery' is defined here as getting the IT system back online so the school system can operate. After we are back online and operational, there typically are several more weeks of work to be done making sure the IT management and security infrastructure is effectively more robust than before the ransomware attack. Thank you for your patience. While the process is slow, it must be noted that the rate of progress we are making is impressive. We have an excellent IT Department and we are hopeful that school will operate as scheduled for all grades on Tuesday, April 13, 2021."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.