Manhasset School District Victim of Ransomware?

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Manhasset School District Acting Superintendent of Schools Gaurav Passi, at the Oct. 7 board of education meeting, said that the district may have been the victim of ransomware.

“At this time we can confirm that we have discovered ransomware in our system,” Passi said. “And that the malicious actor—or threat actor, as the term is referred to in cybersecurity circles—has claimed to have stolen data. We continue to investigate the threat.”

He added, “Our district is the victim of a criminal act. We will continue to work with law enforcement and our experts and see this matter through to completion. As you know, we continue to take data security and privacy very seriously.”

The district took its network off line on Sept. 14 when it detected what Passi called “a service disruption.”

At that time, he related, “We promptly commenced an investigation. We notified law enforcement and the state Education Department chief privacy officer. And we deployed a team of [information technology] professionals to methodically determine which specific systems were impacted.”

The district was able to restore data from its backup system and Passi said, “We continue to make significant progress in our restoration process and our work continues.”

Teachers were allowed to access their files on Oct. 8, allowing them to retrieve lesson plans and other files that were saved on the file server.

‘The network disruption has caused very challenging circumstances to both our teachers and our students,” Passi admitted. “Once again our teachers have been asked to step outside their comfort zones, to stretch and reimagine themselves as they tend to the needs of our students each and every day. We continue to face a confluence of challenges that we as a school community could not have imagined just a short time ago.”

Passi observed that ransomware attacks have been on the rise and Manhasset is one of the latest victims.

During public comment a resident stated that “it’s widely rumored that the data breach had a lot of personal and private information on our staff and our children and it has been compromised—and poses a significant threat to our children and community. My question is, what exactly have the hackers claimed to have stolen and what measures need to be taken to [ensure] identify theft protection for the community and all stakeholders?”

Passi responded that he could not provide details because the investigation is still ongoing and “we’ve been advised not to answer specific questions until the investigators are able to complete what they’re doing. Threat actors have said to us that they’ve accessed some of our data. We’re investigating that statement.”

When the resident attempted a follow-up, board President Patricia Aitken cut him off, stating that they don’t want to compromise the investigation.

Earlier, Passi had stated, “We want the community to be assured that the district will comply with all applicable notification requirements to those who may be affected and will give further guidance to those who may be victims.”

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Frank Rizzo is a journalist at Anton Media Group. With decades of experience in the industry, he is exceptionally equipped to cover local politics, business and other topics that matter to readers.

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