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November 26, 2019

Livingston, New Jersey Schools Hit with Ransomware


Ransomware hackers are getting smarter and more focused.

They have adopted the latest in marketing automation concepts and tools to spread malicious messages – the same way a company would spread its marketing messages.

The only difference is – they are malicious and once there is a click, poof – the company’s IT systems go up in smoke.

Specifically, a program is run to encrypt everything it can find - file by file, computer by computer. To learn more check out this definition and in-depth ransomware description.

Hackers are trying to hit the backup device as well – they are doing their best to knock it out to make companies more dependent on paying the ransom.

It is worth pointing out – even with solid backups in place, companies need to wipe and reinstall operating systems and data. It is a time-consuming and expensive process.

Recently we have told you about cities getting hit and vowing to not pay any more ransoms. Also – hospitals and medical facilities. And finally, schools as well.

Other sad stories we have shared are a company facing a $5M ransom, Louisiana Government Computers Hit With Ransomware During The Election and the potential to receive a government fine if a ransom is paid to certain individuals.

Now, Livingston, New Jersey – an affluent suburb of New York City has been hit with ransomware. The School Superintendent had this to say:

IMPORTANT TECHNOLOGY UPDATE

As you know, our servers have been down November 22nd.  We had an outside security company do a full assessment of our systems.  Based upon what they found, we can now confirm that our servers were compromised by an outside entity and infected with Ransomware, which is designed to encrypt data.  We are confident that this entity is NOT associated with the Livingston Community or the Livingston Public Schools.

Our data is not “lost;” rather it is inaccessible until we can resolve the situation.  The Livingston Public Schools were the victims of a crime, and this crime has been reported to the Livingston Police Department and other appropriate law enforcement agencies.  Our understanding is that these criminals do not typically steal data, but rather render the systems unusable. We know of other districts that have recently been the victims of similar crimes.  Unfortunately, attacks like this are becoming more and more common.

We are told that these issues can take weeks to resolve.  Knowing this, we are working hard to make as much technology as possible available to our students and are taking steps to ensure our daily operating logistics are as smooth as possible.

We have a team of technology professionals working to get access to our data back.  We have been devoting our time and resources to this as a top priority. At the moment, we can provide the following updates:

  • We expect Schoology will be available and usable for all students early next week.
  • Internet access will be available in each of our schools on Monday.
  • Student emails have been working and will continue to work.
  • We will have a direct phone line set-up in each district school by Monday.  The numbers to these direct phone lines will be sent to you as soon as they are up and running.  In the meantime the numbers we sent yesterday will continue to work during the school day.
  • Our staff email will be functional on Monday.  Staff will need to log in to their email in a different way, so please be patient while our staff gets accustomed to the new email system.  This will allow parents and students to reach out directly to their children’s teachers and counselors with specific questions as usual. This will also allow us to communicate with one another, which has been a significant challenge.
  • There is NO impact on college transcripts at this time as Naviance has not been affected.
  • While we believe students will be able to access all resources at home, we plan to remind staff that it is important to be flexible in the scheduling and grading of homework and assessments.  Students should work directly with their teachers on assignment deadlines and extensions.  Teachers will maintain paper records until we are back up and running.
  • Please continue using the school email address provided via email yesterday to report absences and other non-emergency issues to your child’s school.  Click here for that information.
  • For the time being our Genesis System and our full Phone System will not be available.  
    While we have been ASSURED that our devices will not infect home systems, our student devices will still need to be cleaned at some point.  We are working on a plan to do this in the next couple of weeks.

As you can imagine, information is coming to the administrative team hourly and we expect to  receive more information over the weekend. In order to ensure we are communicating the most current information with our staff, we are calling for a two-hour delayed opening for students on Monday, November 25, 2019.   We will be meeting with all district staff that morning in order to ensure clarity and consistency with our plan moving forward.   We appreciate our families making arrangements so that we can hold this very important meeting.

Student Reporting Times on Monday November 25, 2019
Livingston High School will open at 9:50 a.m.
Elementary schools will open at 10:05 a.m.
Heritage Middle School will open at 10:20 a.m.
Mt. Pleasant Middle School will open at 10:35 a.m.
The A.M. Session of PRIDE is canceled.

We are also scheduling an evening meeting in the LHS Auditorium at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, November 25, 2019 in order to answer questions from our parent community.  I will be joined by members of our Technology Department, as well as other administrators.  All are invited.

These events are troubling for all of us.  The last two days have been a whirlwind for district personnel, all of whom have done an excellent job maintaining normalcy for our students.  I work with an amazing group of professionals, and I am thankful to be part of the LPS Team. 

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, it is important to recognize that this did not compromise our community’s physical safety.  One thing I have learned about the Livingston Community in my short time here, is that we are resilient and determined to overcome setbacks like this.  

I appreciate your partnership as we work together to resolve this situation. 

Matthew J. Block
Superintendent of Schools

How do you stay secure or at least drastically reduce the risk? Just follow these three steps:

1) Read cybersecurity essentials – a simple list which will help most organizations become far more secure.

2) Go to a phishing simulation vendor now and sign up for one of their offerings. Phishing BoxKnowBe4 and Phish360; are all great. This is needed to train workers by testing them without their knowledge by sending real-looking emails to their inboxes. If they click, they are immediately trained on what not to do.

3) We also recommend you get a free evaluation of your cybersecurity risk from an MSP/MSSP immediately – they can also help you build in the needed compliance to reduce the risk of being fined.



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