standing Stonington High School

STONINGTON — Stonington schools staff and the FBI are working together to determine the scope of access and how it was granted after the district was targeted as part of a ransomware attack discovered Monday morning.

The district first found evidence of the ransomware around 9:30 a.m. Monday, according to Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Assessment Mary Anne Butler, and staff led by Director of Technology Christopher Williston took immediate action to secure the district’s systems including taking the entire district offline.

The nature and origin of the attack and whether information was compromised both remain the subjects of an ongoing investigation, officials said.

“We don’t have a lot of information at this point and we will continue to work with a cybersecurity team Tuesday to determine the scope,” Butler said. “We have taken precautions to make sure everything remains protected. Our top priority is the safety of the children.”

The district first notified parents on Monday afternoon through an email sent to all families. The message, which was shared around 5 p.m., indicated to families that the district had already begun taking steps to remediate the issue including isolating the district from the internet.

Ransomware is a malicious computer software that threatens to publish or block access to data, usually by encrypting it, until the victim pays a ransom fee. It was unclear whether any information was obtained, but officials indicated that the system was removed from the internet before much of the information had been encrypted.

Butler said the attack should not impact school schedules this week.

“We will not be able to have students access online content, but schools will be able to continue in person while the issue is being addressed,” Butler said.

Students are encouraged to attend classes as they normally would on Tuesday but schools are not expected to have access to the internet during the school day Wednesday and staff may be delayed in efforts to respond to emails. The district has a professional development day on Wednesday and students will not be in class.

All phone systems are protected and working, school officials said. Parents and guardians will be granted access to the main office at each school and adjustments have been made to assure the schools remain secure at the same time.

If the issue is not resolved by Thursday, students would again return to class without access to the internet.

Butler said there are a lot of unknowns still as the investigation continues, but said that district staff including Williston were expected to continue working through the night and the district would provide families with additional updates by the end of the day Tuesday or when information becomes available.

“We are still in the assessment stage, so there is just not a lot to share at the moment,” she said. “We will continue to send updates to families so they know what to expect.”

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