Haverhill Schools Shut Down By Ransomware Attack On Day Some Students Hoped To Return

WBZ-TV's Beth Germano reports.

Video Transcript

- Schools hacked and forced to cancel classes today after a ransomware attack. But the school is making progress. WBZ's Beth Germano is live in Haverhill tonight where, Beth, this is just the latest school to be targeted in an attack like this.

BETH GERMANO: Well these kinds of disturbing attacks are definitely on the rise in schools, especially with increasing reliance on technology during the pandemic. Here in Haverhill, they were ready to greet some of their elementary school students right at the door today, but hackers had other plans. They came to the Tilton Elementary School doors only to find them locked. Parents and children who didn't get the word, no first day of classes.

- I'm so stressed out. I'm so stressed out.

- I don't like it because I like going to school and seeing my friends.

BETH GERMANO: But the district was the victim of a ransomware attack that literally held the computer network hostage. No email, Google, no phone system on the day students second through fourth grade were to return in person.

MARGARET MAROTTA: If it weren't the first week and the first day we have many kids back to school, we would have been open. But we just have so many moving parts that we really needed our systems up and running.

BETH GERMANO: It was first detected yesterday, and IT was able to shut the network down before any large scale corruption. But cyber experts say these hack attacks are up over 300% in the education sector, blamed largely on older, more vulnerable systems.

PETER TRAN: IT systems in local schools, even at the university levels, are a patchwork of systems that have grown over time. So unfortunately, security is an afterthought. It creates chaos.

BETH GERMANO: The Norton school system was attacked in January, hobbled for at least 72 hours and weeks to fully recover.

JOSEPH BAETA: We're on 24/7 with somebody putting their eyes on it, and we get alerts every day.

BETH GERMANO: Like Haverhill, it's costly and time-consuming to mitigate the problem, let alone figure out where the attack came from.

PETER TRAN: You literally have to take those systems down, make sure that you're not going to get reinfected. That's a big concern, building the systems clean so they don't get reinfected with the same ransomware.

MARGARET MAROTTA: I call it very unfortunate and bad timing.

BETH GERMANO: Now the school district says some of its systems should be back up and running tomorrow, but some students will continue to learn remotely. Some younger students will return to in-person learning. The details are on the school district's website, and they will be finalized at a school committee meeting tonight. Reporting live from Haverhill, I'm Beth Germano with WBZ News.