Cyberattack on New Jersey school district has many rethinking their online habits

Posted: Updated:

A cyberattack at an Essex County school district caused delayed openings Monday, and left many worrying about their habits online.

Livingston School Superintendent Matthew Block says the district’s servers went down Friday and an outside security company determined they were compromised in an attack that encrypted the district’s data, making it inaccessible.

“There's an entity somewhere in the world that used malware called ransomware to encrypt all of our files. So, it makes our files unreadable and unusable to us,” says Block.

New Jersey-based cybersecurity expert Jeff Schwartz says that the issue is troubling, but says that it is safely becoming more common.

“The academic institutional organizations are particularly susceptible because, from a security perspective, those organizations have open infrastructure in the sense of academic accessibility,” he says.

Block says it could take weeks to resolve and that the Livingston School District is taking steps to get access back. He did not say if the district would pay the ransom.

But as many get ready to do a majority of their holiday shopping online this year, Schwartz says that one can never be too careful with how they interact with websites online.

“We need to have situational awareness for the things, the information, we are putting online and making available to third parties,” he says. “Whether it's school districts or health-care institutions or any retail institutions."

Schwartz says that the public should always assume that there is a possibility that their information can be compromised. He says to be cautious of what one provides. Anyone involved in any type of hack or data breach should change all their passwords. Data should also be backed up regularly.

“If you have healthy backups and are maintaining and testing the backups on regular basis, if someone steals your information there's only limited exposure because you have access to a known good, or clean back up,” he says.

Livingston police are investigating the school situation and the superintendent says that officials are confident the attack is not associated with anyone in the township.

The Associated Press wire services contributed to this report.

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