Ransomware attack prompts Connecticut school district to postpone first day of school year

HARTFORD, Conn. — A ransomware attack targeting school servers in Hartford prompted officials to postpone the first day of the 2020-2021 school year, which had been scheduled for Tuesday.

Officials with Hartford Public Schools said in a statement posted online and shared with parents that no in-person or online classes would be held Tuesday as officials continue work to restore its systems. Among those targeted was a system that communicates transportation routes to the school district’s bus company, according to officials.

“(I)t is preventing our ability to operate schools on Tuesday,” Hartford Public Schools officials said. “Everyone at Hartford Public Schools was ready to welcome back our beautiful and capable students in person and remotely.”

School district spokesman John Fergus told the Hartford Courant that officials with Metro Hartford Information Services worked over the weekend to restore a “massive amount of information.” The job appeared to be completed at midnight, but he said officials learned around 4 a.m. Tuesday that two transportation systems had yet to be restored.

Although many students are unlikely to attend in-person classes due to the threat of the coronavirus, Fergus said officials opted to postpone the first day of classes so that students who weren’t set up for virtual learning weren’t penalized, the Courant reported. Students from pre-K through second grade and from sixth and ninth grades had been slated to begin classes under a staggered schedule, according to the Connecticut Post.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin told WVIT that the person or people behind the attack first gained access to school district systems on Thursday. Two days later, officials realized that a ransomware virus had attacked school systems. Such viruses typically block access to systems until the victim agrees to pay to have them restored.

It was not clear Tuesday whether Hartford Public Schools paid a ransom to regain access to their systems, according to the Courant.

Several school districts have dealt with cyberattacks as they’ve shifted to virtual learning amid the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, police in Florida arrested a 16-year-old South Miami Senior High School student on suspicion of carrying out a series of cyberattacks which crippled the Miami-Dade Public Schools online learning system for days.

The United States leads the world with the most coronavirus cases and the highest death toll. Since the start of the pandemic, officials have confirmed more than 6.3 million infections and reported more than 189,000 deaths nationwide, according to numbers compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

As of Tuesday, more than 27.3 million COVID-19 cases have been reported worldwide and more than 893,000 people have died of the viral infection, according to Johns Hopkins.