Cybercriminals hold Wyoming Area School District’s data hostage during a ransomware attack

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EXETER, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — A school district in Luzerne County confirmed Tuesday it was the victim of a ransomware attack that locked up their computers for weeks.

Wyoming Area School District officials say they had no choice but to pay up to free their computer network.

“It slowed things down,” Wyoming Area senior Jack Dileo said.

Dileo says he and other students knew something just wasn’t right with the district’s computers. Now they know why.

“All the power points teachers made for us, we couldn’t view them at the first and second days of school. I think it was a week or two until we could use the power boards and stuff,” Dileo said.

School district officials confirmed with Eyewitness News that their computer network was hacked in mid-July by hackers using ransomware to encrypt and freeze the district’s computers. The hackers demanded $38,000 to free the system. The district hired a technology company to negotiate with the cyber-attackers and decrypt the system.

A statement released by the superintendent read:

“Our district is inured in such matters and we followed the recommendations of our carrier and their experts.”

Janet Serino, Wyoming Area School District Superintendent

Luzerne County Detective Chaz Balogh investigates cybercrimes. He says targets of these ransomware attacks oftentimes have no other choice but to make a deal with these hackers.

“The people are holding that information to either lock them out or they are going to publish their data information,” Det. Balogh said.

For many in the district, the thought of paying a criminal is just unthinkable.

“That’s a shock to me that someone is able to hack in the school system,” Former student Cameron Carr said. “I think they should figure out the problem and prevent it from happening in the future.”

And that is exactly what school district officials say they are doing. The system is now 100 percent online.

Eyewitness News was told the attackers entered the system by using a so-called ‘brute force attack’ on an outside portal. Balogh says tracking these cyber attackers is very tough because many are operating outside the country. Wyoming Area School District has insurance for these types of incidents. As a result, $28,000 of the ransom was covered by their policy.

The ransom was paid using bitcoins.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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