Malware attack shuts down school temporarily

by Andrew Lavin and Rory Murray, contributing writers

A ransomware attack is no common occurrence for the Nantucket High School tech department, staff, or students. Unfortunately, in this modern world of ever-advancing technology, it is hard to say that such an event will not happen. Ransomware attacks are malicious software, or malware, that prevents you from accessing your computer files, systems, or networks and demands you pay a ransom for their return. Value of any sort is a motivator for ransomware attacks. This was the frightening case for the Nantucket High School population this past Tuesday, January 31, 2023.

The first signs of a ransomware attack were noted on the very same day, the 31st, by school officials. The rather unnerving news prompted the school to close early, and remain closed the following day as the school sorted the issue out. Since students and staff alike could not access the wifi at school, security cameras, internal phones, and electrically controlled doors were temporarily down, it was not deemed safe or prudent for the school to be running. In the days following, access to school-issued Chromebooks, teachers’ computer devices, and wifi were all returned, thanks to a speedy response by the school and the tech department. Students and staff returned to school that week.

Ransomware attacks are becoming increasingly common around the US. There were five other instances of ransomware attacks across the month of January, including a school district in Tucson, Arizona, according to CNN. The amount of technology schools depend on makes them a large target for malware attacks. Further, the attack led to uncertainty with the school-issued Chromebooks, of which every student is loaned to continue their work from home. The uncertainty had students essentially quarantining their Chromebooks to stop themselves from opening them up and connecting them to home WiFi as it may compromise their data.

Even though students and staff returned to school later in the week of the attack, some issues remained, such as security cameras being down even as school was running for a while, although they are back up now, and the printers not working. The function of the school’s copier has returned, but wireless printing is still down as of February 24th. Students also complain of slow wifi, but it is unclear if that is because of the malware, something else, or the placebo effect.

Dr. Jedediyah Williams shared that for him, the biggest impact of the malware attack was the inability to print. He added that he is “not able to print” and that the laptop that he usually uses, connected to his smartboard, doesn’t have internet: “any time I want to use it I have to unplug my computer… and walk it over and plug it in.”

According to Williams, “the Chromebooks have gone out several times. Not being able to print, we rely more on online work, and that is also down.”

The school continues to work on getting all functions, including printing, back up and running as smoothly as before.

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