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Cyber security expert weighs in as HCS parents worry

Published: Dec. 2, 2020 at 11:30 AM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Huntsville City School students will be out of the classroom for the remainder of this week, as school administrators deal with a cyber security threat.

HCS officials said they’re working with Huntsville Police and the FBI to get to the bottom of the potential ransomware attack.

This leaves parents in the system with a lot of questions about their children’s private information and what the end of this semester will look like.

Tori Medina has kids at Mountain Gap Elementary and Middle School and Erin Batrich has a freshman at Grissom High School.

Both said their concerns are high about criminals possibly having private information.

“Immediately I was like, ‘Oh, my God, kids’ socials, oh my God, kid’s birthdays, oh my God, our address,’ you know?” Medina said. “Immediately, I just started thinking, ‘How do we handle this or how do we get a handle on this?”

In a statement, HCS officials said they’re not sure what information, if any, has been compromised at this point.

At the same time as the investigation, students are also trying to get ready for their finals.

“It’s one thing if you have a snow day and they can be at home and virtual and working on things like that, but actually losing days of work time is devastating at this point,” Batrich said.

Despite the situation, the parents did appreciate how the school system handled it. Both agreed administrators acted quickly to get kids out of school and told everyone to shut their computers down.

Dr. Tommy Morris is the Director of the Center for Cyber Security Research and Education at UAH, he said ransomeware is becoming more common and everyone needs to be ready for it.

Morris said with most ransomware, it typically goes one of two ways.

“One is to actually pay and hope that the hacker actually decrypts your data and gives it back to you, there’s no guarantee to that,” Morris said. “You have to trust a criminal again. The other possible likely outcome is they have done a good job with backups and they have most of the data and will only lose a little bit and won’t be forced to pay.”

This leaves room for a lot of concerns.

“Will the data be lost permanently or not?” Morris said. “Hopefully there are good backups in the district so that the amount of data that will ultimately be affected is minimized, you also have to worry about the record themselves because they’re ultimately no longer private.”

Morris said once the data has been compromised, there’s no way to get it back. Those hackers will have it.

As for the criminals on the other end, Morris said a majority of the time it is very hard to prosecute or even identify who it could be.

While schools are shut down, meals will be ready for curbside pickup for students at every Huntsville City School campus from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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