PNGISD technology held for ransom; forensic & cyber security specialists involved

Published 5:15 pm Tuesday, November 12, 2019

PORT NECHES — Port Neches-Groves Independent School District was hit by ransomware, causing the disruption of all technology connections on Tuesday.

Assistant superintendent Julie Gauthier provided a statement about the cyber security attack, saying the district is working with local law enforcement and forensic and cyber security specialists to remedy the situation.

The ransomware issue was noted at 7:30 a.m. when employees tried to clock in, Gauthier said.

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“This is not a security breach that people are used to hearing about, this is a cyber security attack,” she said. “They have encrypted all files, so we can’t read them and are holding them for ransom.”

In ransomware cases, the cyber attacker does not plan to sell the information but hold the files until a ransom is paid, usually in bitcoin. Once paid, a key is given to recover the files.

The information being held is not sensitive and does not include students’ information and the only thing affected is technology in the classroom, which, she noted, has not bothered the teachers or students.

Port Neches Police Chief Paul Lemoine, who is out of the office on vacation, was notified about the cyber security attack and immediately contacted the information technology department, which is shared by the three Mid County cities.

Gauthier said the FBI is involved as well as cyber security experts and she believes the system will be down for a few days.

Last month the FBI released a public service announcement about high impact ransomware attacks threatening U.S. businesses and organizations. The site released information on how to protect against and what to do if infected.

The issue is so widespread that PNGISD has a rider on its insurance policy to deal with cyber attacks.

Gauthier called the cyber attack disgusting and heartbreaking in that it takes away from the district.

“It’s a shame, a big shame and I hate it for our teachers and kids,” she said. “Our kids are so amazing and go on as if nothing happened, they go with the flow.”