Wantagh Shorted by Ransomware Attack

Jenna Miller, Editor in Chief

Thursday, May 2, started as just another day for the Wantagh school district. Everything was normal in the schools, the same as always…until all the teachers were advised to power off their computers.

The computer network of the Wantagh school district was under attack by ransomware, malicious computer software that denies access to data unless the administrator pays money.

The attack began, it is believed, when a  staff member opened an email containing a harmful attachment that triggered the virus to infect their computer; it spread throughout the district computers and servers and eventually made its way to every computer in the district. The H drive, the ST-share drive, and the programs the school has installed on the computers district-wide, such as the Adobe creative suite and the Microsoft Office suite were all corrupted by the virus.

Health teacher Ms. Fugazzi explained the issue to her homeroom the week of May 5, claiming that the hackers demanded a payment in the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, though this statement has not been confirmed.

District officials hired a company to rectify the computer issue. They worked with the IT staff to create a new email system and as of May 9, the Wi-Fi in the high school had been restored. Starting May 13, some Chromebooks began to work again. The desktop computers which run on shared drives had to be re-imaged before they could work again.

On May 29, students and staff returned from a long Memorial Day weekend and many computers were back along with Smartboards, which had been down for 27 days.

During the outage, many teachers who rely on computers took some creative measures to find things to do in the meantime while the computers were not working. English teacher Ms. Lopera hooked her home laptop up to the SmartBoard in her classroom and used her phone as a personal Wi-Fi hotspot. Mr. Hunter’s graphic design class shifted from their usual digital art to traditional art as they worked on a creative project featuring making letter shapes out of varied materials ranging from cereal to cut-up magazines.

Mr. Kravitz found an old DVD player and its remote in his home and was able to hook it up to a SmartBoard in one classroom and a TV procured by Ms. Flynn in another classroom. Several teachers shared the DVD player. “And we just went back to the old fashioned reading of books without the all the accoutrements provided by SmartBoards,” said Mr. Kravitz.

Wantagh’s school district is not alone in being devastated by malware this year. According to CNN, 2019 saw a sharp increase in ransomware viruses triggered by phished emails, like the one the teacher opened, in cities, businesses and schools worldwide. Other Long Island school districts have experienced similar computer system shutdowns as a result of similar viruses just this year, beginning with Manhasset and Lynbrook earlier in the year. A week after Wantagh was infected, Bellmore experienced a similar attack.