Nacogdoches ISD was hit with a cyberattack Tuesday that locked files on some district computers as hackers demanded money to remove the malicious program.

“Our staff is working to control the spread of the virus and to determine the best and quickest ways to get our computer network operational,” NISD communications director Les Linebarger said in an email. “It is certainly an inconvenience that will be felt across all departments of the district.”

NISD is working to determine how many documents and computer functions were affected by the ransomware.

“The attackers do not have access to any of our information,” Linebarger said.

Ransomware is a type of computer virus that heavily encrypts or locks files until a hacker is paid a ransom. In most attacks, hackers ask for payment in some type of untraceable electronic currency like Bitcoin.

NISD shut down its network to protect computers that were unaffected by the attack and is seeking the assistance of Microsoft and other computer service vendors for help reestablishing the district’s computer network.

Linebarger said the process could take several days to complete. Meanwhile, teachers are unlikely to be able to respond to emails from parents.

“If they email their student’s teacher, they may not be able to get that through. A lot of that is going to depend on whether a teacher is using a personal cellphone to retrieve mail,” Linebarger said.

NISD is close to the end of a grading period, but district officials are working to remedy the computer problems before report cards come out.

Electronic smartboards, iPads and Chromebook laptop computers are unaffected by the security breach, Linebarger said.

“It’s not going to come to a grinding halt. There’s lots of things they do in the classroom that still requires a teacher to stand up in the front of the class and present information,” he said.

Ransomware attacks have grown in frequency since 2012. In 2019, 205,280 organizations reported being hacked in a ransomware attack, security firm Emsisoft reported this week in a story detailed by tech journalist Nathaniel Popper of the New York Times. The average payment to release files last quarter was $84,116, but in December 2019, ransoms averaged $190,946, the firm reported.

Port Neches-Groves ISD in Jefferson County was hit with a ransomware attack in late 2019, and paid hackers $35,000 in Bitcoin to unlock files.

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