Illinois High School Hit by Ransomware Infection

Media Division | April 27, 2017

Ransomware infections tend to be one of the most frequent types of cyber attacks.  Typically injected through a phishing email, they allow a hacker to extort various types of organizations for large amounts of money.  Ransomware has become such a common method of attack that it cost victims 209 million dollars in just the first three months of last year.  One of the latest victims of ransomware was a school in Illinois, called Pekin Community High School.

What Was Affected in the Attack

Officials at the school had discovered the issue on Monday, but it appears that the initial infection had taken place on Sunday.  Ransomware functions by encrypting files and holding them hostage until a ransom is paid, typically requested in the form of Bitcoin.  In this case, the encrypted files included contact information for around 2,000 students, lesson plans, grades, and other data. The hacker was demanding $37,000 for the release of the files, which was not paid.  The attack had also affected the computer systems responsible for regulation of the school’s door system, food service, heating, and air conditioning.  The teachers at the school have coped with the situation by operating with pencil and paper.

Fortunately, the type of information affected is unlikely to be used for identity theft, being that further details would be needed. The school has been working diligently to restore their data and systems, most of which is backed up on offsite servers. According to reports from Wednesday, they are looking to have everything back up and running within the next couple days.  The school district did file a police report about the attack, but due to the unlikely tracing of the source, there is currently no criminal investigation.

Pekin appears to be handling the breach quite appropriately.  Far too many organizations do not regularly backup their data, which puts them in a difficult situation in the event of a ransomware attack.  Many end up having to pay because they have no other way to restore their data.  But, Pekin was able to deny paying the ransom due to adequate backups.

Unfortunately, Pekin is far from the only school affected by ransomware and other types of cyber attacks.  For example, an LA college was hit with ransomware earlier this year, which resulted in them shelling out $28,000 for the return of their data.  There were also a couple schools that were struck by phishing attacks targeted at employee tax information. With schools, a cyber attacker has the potential of stealing the personal information of teachers and students, the latter often including minors.

The Necessity of Anti-Phishing Solutions

As mentioned above, ransomware is commonly injected into a system or network through a phishing email.  Phishing is a very frequent method for attackers to infect or breach systems.  This is largely due to the fact that these malicious campaigns are easy to craft, and people continue to fall victim to them.  They often portray themselves as a legitimate company or person to trick the individual into opening a link or attachment that can infect their system.  Having appropriate anti-phishing solutions in place to prevent and mitigate these attacks is crucial for the protection of an organization.  Not only should there be methods to block and defend against phishing, but there also needs to be a plan for the event of a successful attack.  This could include tracing the source of the attack for the purpose of eliminating it.  Massive Alliance provides anti-phishing solutions that can protect any organization from malicious campaigns.

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