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FBI, Michigan State Police investigating cyber attack on Saginaw Township schools

Ransomware attack hit school district’s computer network
A computer popup box screen warning of a system being hacked, compromised software enviroment....
A computer popup box screen warning of a system being hacked, compromised software enviroment. 3D illustration.(James Thew - stock.adobe.com)
Published: Feb. 25, 2021 at 6:17 PM EST
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SAGINAW TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WJRT) - Law enforcement agencies are investigating a cyber attack at Saginaw Township Community Schools.

School administrators noticed the issue Sunday. The FBI and Michigan State Police joined the investigation later in the week.

“It could have been a whole lot worse, but it certainly has been disruptive in an already disruptive year,” says Saginaw Township schools Superintendent Bruce Martin.

It’s believed hackers deployed ransomware that infected the district’s computer network.

“A lot of teachers went back old school with books and paper and pencil,” Martin said.

So what is ransomware?

“It’s malware that infects a computer system or network that encrypts a person’s data, making it useless to them,” said Matt McLalin of the Michigan State Police Cyber Command Center.

An entity like a school district can remove the virus by paying ransom money to the person or group that installed the malware. Once they are paid, the hackers provide a “key” in the form of a series of numbers, letters or characters that unlocks the encryption.

But law enforcement doesn’t encourage anyone to pay up.

“You pay them the money, they are just going to use that money to continue to make new malware and infect others,” McLalin said.

Martin is letting investigators deal with the cyber crooks.

“They are communicating almost daily with the hackers to figure out what exactly they want,” Martin said.

McLalin said the hackers are tough to catch because they are mostly overseas. Russia is a big player in ransomware attacks.

It’s not clear how the district was hacked. McLalin advised everyone to avoid clicking on unfamiliar emails or links to prevent or foil a ransomware attack.

“Keep good backups, obviously, good, regular back-ups where you are regularly backing up your data, and keep them off-line,” he said.

Martin said investigators don’t believe any data was stolen by the hackers. He believes the district’s computer systems are pretty much back up to normal for the most part and is glad classes took place all week.

“I think that sent a message that we can overcome this,” Martin said.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a rare occurrence. Cyber security experts estimate there are 4,000 ransomware attacks every day worldwide.

Genesee County government got hit with a ransomware attack in April 2019, which affected operations for weeks and eventually cost $164,000.

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