How a New Hampshire school foiled hackers

Published: Dec. 6, 2019 at 6:18 PM EST
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Sen. Maggie Hassan toured a New Hampshire school district on Friday that was the target of a cyberattack. It's an issue she talks about a lot on Capitol Hill. Our Adam Sullivan takes a look at the lessons learned from the Sunapee cyberattack.

On Oct. 13 of this year, the Sunapee New Hampshire School District came under attack. Not a physical threat, but rather online. Ransomware had infiltrated the district.

"We don't care about you or your deals, this is just a business for us." That was the message Sunapee School District Technology Director Mike Montore received as the data streaming through the Sunapee district's servers suddenly went dark. Malicious software, known as ransomware, encrypted all the files. The only way to get them back was to pay the ransom.

Thankfully, the district was prepared and didn't have to pay the thieves a penny.

"We had made a plan to make sure that we at least took a copy of our full backups off-network weekly," Montore said.

Within a day, teachers and students once again had access to their data in the cloud. A little more than a week later, things had returned to normal. A new normal, if you will, where the threat of a cyberattack lurks around every corner.

"It is critically important that we are constantly vigilant in our cyberspace to keep ourselves safe," said Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire.

Friday, Hassan toured Sunapee middle and high schools. Hassan is on the Homeland Security Committee and says cyberattacks like this are a growing threat.

"As we develop expertise at the federal level, we also need to share that expertise in real-time with state and local partners but also develop best practices and share those, too," Hassan said.

The technology director in this district says their routine data backups minimized the impact of the ransomware. But he admits they could be better prepared for the next attack if they had more money to troubleshoot weak parts of the system.

Mike Montore: In a perfect world, we would have the funds to have a test environment and be able to segregate something, break it and see if we can restore it from scratch quickly.

Reporter Adam Sullivan: But you don't has the funds?

Mike Montore: Don't have the funds.

The investigation into exactly what happened is ongoing and school officials declined to comment on that process. They say they are focused on making sure it never happens again.