After cyber attack, GCSD ‘almost fully functional’ with upgraded screening

This graph from the not-for-profit Identity Theft Resource Center shows a huge spike in the United States of breeches in education systems after March 2020 — totaling 759 since 2017.

GUILDERLAND — The Guilderland school district has upgraded its screening software following an April 29 cyber attack that canceled in-person classes for secondary students for four days.

“That’s all done,” said Superintendent Marie Wiles this week. “And we’re talking about some of the next steps and that’s in the debrief once the dust settles here.”

The district is working with the FBI and other experts on an investigation that is still ongoing, she said. 

“I know people are curious and want to know more …,” said Wiles. “I really can’t comment other than to say we are up and running, almost fully functional, thanks to the really amazing work of our technology team and help from the Regional Information Center out of the local BOCES to restore our systems reliably and safely.”

Asked when the district will be able to share information, Wiles said “I think it will be relatively soon but I don’t know. I’m at the mercy of other entities that are doing the work.”

She praised both the tech staff and the teachers in grades seven through 12 who “were able to pivot to fully remote without missing a beat.”

Since lessons couldn’t be projected from classrooms, teachers taught from home as they had in March 2020 when schools were abruptly closed to stem the spread of COVID-19.

“The teachers were teaching from home. Everybody was home …. It was kind of like March all over again,” said Wiles.

The district used its own hotspots and borrowed others to keep its offices “limping along,” she said, “because the reality is everything is email and Google Meets and Zoom meets so we relied on that help until we were back up and running.”

Since the start of the pandemic, the United States has suffered a huge spike in breeches of educational systems.

“Even before anything happened to us or to many other schools — we’re certainly not alone in this — it’s always wise to not click on links in emails from someone you don’t know and we’ve been talking about that for years,” said Wiles.

The district has done training to reinforce that. “We actually test people where our tech department will send out a fake thing that will tempt you to click on it,” said Wiles, adding, “Just in general, you should never open a link sent to you by someone you’re not 100 percent sure you know.”

She went on, “You have to look closely at the address and make sure it’s actually a real internet address. Sometimes they’ll do something that looks familiar but might be off by a couple of letters. You really have to pay attention.”

For teaching purposes, Guilderland uses Google, a cloud-based application, which wasn’t affected by the attack, Wiles said. “Google Classroom and our Google accounts were all fine,” she said. “It’s more when things are housed on servers that people need to be careful.”

Laptops and desktops at Guilderland use servers, Wiles said, and some of the district’s systems, like heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning, do, too. Some of the district’s systems — like its finance system or student-management system — are housed off-site, Wiles said.

“There’s more to come on what our next steps are going to be but we feel very good that our system is quite secure right now,” said Wiles. “The thing with these attacks is you up your protection to a new level and then people who are interested in doing this, they up their level and then …. it’s like an arms race back in the day. So you always have to be thinking about what’s next. We’ve always done that anyway and we’ll continue doing that.”

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