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Back To School For Scammers: Hackers Target Long Island School District With Ransomware

ROCKVILLE CENTRE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A cyber attack has hit local schools.

As CBS2's Jennifer McLogan found out Monday, hackers have put some Long Island schools in a no-win situation.

Extortionists have struck again. This time, they're targeting school districts. Among them, Rockville Centre. The district paid nearly $100,000 to restore its data after being hacked with a ransomware virus.

"From our information they are not in this country but they are outside this country performing these attacks and it is a scary thing, because we are all vulnerable," Nassau County BOCES Superintendent Dr. Robert Dillon said. "The bad guys are continuously practicing their craft. We have to be one step ahead of them."

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Server Computer Data Cables
(Photo: CBS2)

Complying with the cyber attackers was necessary to restore Rockville Centre's communications systems for one, as well as other data needed to run day-to-day operations, McLogan reported. Nassau's 56 school districts are now monitored at Nassau BOCES.

"Ransomware is prolific right now and there's more of it going on in government and educational institutions than in private industry," said Anthony Carfora of the Robert E. Lupinskie Center for Curriculum, Instruction and Technology. "We seem to be targets now."

Experts said the virus encrypts data, essentially locking users out of access to their files, and hackers are blackmailing schools until payment is made, usually in bitcoin, through school insurance to unlock the system's server.

According to the FBI, ransomware is believed to be coming out of eastern Europe, and is delivered through targeted phishing emails. Hackers sell it to a third party, which encrypts it, and then a ransom is demanded. For those who don't pay, they have to rebuild the servers and everything has to be scrubbed.

"If you have backups, verified backups, at that point you do not have to pay the ransom. You can rebuild," technology expert Sandeep Dhillon said.

Since the malicious creators of the virus scour websites for personal information, most school districts are no longer posting staff emails on their website.

Rockville Centre residents are understandably concerned.

"I know, it's very scary for the school system. My husband is a teacher," one person said.

"They're going to continue. They see it's successful. Why would they stop?" another parent said of the attacks.

"It's a good thing they had insurance," another added.

The FBI calls ransomware the fastest growing malware threat in America.

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