Judson ISD Pays Undisclosed Amount To Ransomware Hackers To Regain Access To Phones And Email

The Judson Independent School District paid an undisclosed amount to hackers to at least partially solve a ransomware attack that has plagued the district since June 17.

The attack cut off phones, emails and computers in the district, which has about 26,600 students and staff on 30 campuses on the northeast side. Authorities have not said whether any personal data has been breached.

District spokeswoman Nicole Taguinod confirmed a ransom had been paid, but declined to say when, how and how much. The district regained access to its phone and email systems on Monday, she said. It was not clear on Tuesday whether the district’s computer systems were fully operational.

Ransomware is a type of software designed to block access to files and systems, rendering them unusable for the owner. The attackers then demand a ransom, usually in cryptocurrency because it is difficult to trace, in return for the freeing of data and systems.

The FBI has advised against paying ransoms, primarily because it does not guarantee recovery of locked data and may encourage hackers to commit more such attacks.

Crestview Elementary Assistant Principal Esmeralda Garza, right, and Principal Linda Cruz interview a candidate for a teaching position at the Judson ISD Career Fair at Judson High School on Wednesday, June 23, 2021.

Marvin Pfeiffer, San Antonio Express-News / Staff Photographer

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, the district acknowledged the payment and said the “restoration of service has been achieved through the acceleration of key upgrades to strengthen the security of our systems for the school year. 2021-22 “.

Judson officials have not disclosed whether the district has cyber insurance to mitigate the costs of such an attack. Last year, Texas school districts were hit by such attacks and paid hackers $ 50,000 to $ 2.3 million in ransom.

ISD Athens outside of Dallas gave away $ 50,000, Sheldon ISD near Houston paid $ 207,000 and Manor ISD near Austin gave out $ 2.3 million. All three districts are significantly smaller than Judson ISD.

In addition to the cancellation of a day of summer school for about 700 high school students, the Judson breach forced the district to establish other means of communication through a call center, access points Wi-Fi and commercial email services.

The district hired BlueVoyant, a New York-based cybersecurity company in business since 2017, to help resolve the situation, Taguinod said.

BlueVoyant’s website says it provides “expert management of complex data breaches”, with an “investigative approach … built on decades of FBI Cyber ​​and private sector experience.”

“We continue to work with our team of data privacy professionals and local, state and federal law enforcement agencies as the ransomware attack remains an ongoing and active investigation,” Taguinod said in an e- mail.

BlueVoyant, the FBI, and the Judson ISD Police Department declined to comment.

Judson is expected to start the 2021-2022 school year on August 16.

Brandon Lingle writes for Express-News through Report for America, a national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms. ReportforAmerica.org. [email protected]


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