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Haverhill Schools Shut Down By Ransomware Attack On Day Some Students Hoped To Return

HAVERHILL (CBS) -- Haverhill canceled school Thursday after the district's computer system was hit in a ransomware attack.

Second, third and fourth graders were scheduled to return to full in-person learning, but some parents and students didn't get the message and showed up at the Tilton elementary school only to find it was closed for the day.

"I don't like it because I like going to school and seeing my friends," said third grader Liliana Burdin.

The attack affected all schools in town from pre-K through high school. The day will be treated like a snow day and will be made up at the end of the school year.

"I am very mad because I don't have school," said a second grader named Juan.

According to Haverhill Superintendent Margaret Marotta, the district's IT department was able to shut down the system Wednesday before there was large-scale corruption.

"Given that it was to be the first day back to school for grades 2, 3 and 4 we do feel confident that we will be able to offer the level of information and communication needed to welcome hundreds of students back to new teachers and classrooms," Marotta said in an email to parents and staff Wednesday.

The shutdown affected the entire computer network, including email, Schoolbrains, Google and Google Meet as well as the schools' phone systems.

"We're working on setting up a skeleton system to be able to access our healthcare information, our food allergies, our home contacts," Marotta told WBZ-TV on Thursday. "We really can't have school without those things in place."

Cyber security expert Peter Tran says attacks in the education sector are up over 300 percent in the education sector. It can be blamed largely on older, more vulnerable systems.

"It systems in local schools, even at the university levels, are a patchwork of systems have grown overtime," Tran said. "So unfortunately, security is an afterthought."

Norton school Superintendent Dr. Joseph Baeta says his school was hacked back in January and hobbled for at least 72 hours. It took weeks to full recover.

"It creates chaos," said Baeta."The inability to send an email, the inability to literally open the computer and do anything with it. We were on 24/7 with somebody putting eyes on it and getting alerts every day."

Like Haverhill, it is costly and time-consuming to mitigate the problem, or figure out where the attack came from.

The Haverhill school district says some of its systems should be back up running on Friday.

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