Fears for the personal data of over a thousand students have been sparked after the Island Education Federation fell victim to a ransomware cyberattack last week – with several schools now announcing that their pupils will return to school several days later in September than planned as educators struggle to recreate files that have been lost forever.
The Federation, which is responsible for Medina, Carisbrooke, and the VI Form Campus in Nodehill, has been prevented from gaining access to its computer systems since its network was compromised between the 28th and 29th July. Several primary schools including Lanesend, Barton, and Hunnyhill have also been affected.
A ransomware attack is a type of computer virus, which when downloaded and activated rapidly encrypts data into an unusable form, with attackers demanding money from victims to unencrypt their data. The viruses usually spread via a malware email. Paying the attacker does not always actually lead to the data being restored.
The Police Cybercrime Unit is working with the federation to understand the full impact of the attack and pursue those behind it.
It has not yet been made clear exactly what data has been encrypted, but in modern times most personal data of pupils and staff including registrations, addresses, dates of birth, and some medical information is all stored on a computer system. Additionally, exam coursework, personal documents, lesson plans, and financial accounts are also often partially – if not completely – stored on supposedly secure servers.
In 2017, it was widely reported that the NHS was among the victims of a ransomware attack caused by the ‘WannaCry’ virus, costing the UK £92 million, and bringing the country’s health service to an almost standstill as computerised patient records were made unavailable.
A spokesperson for the Island Education Federation said:
“We are working with officers from the police Cybercrime Unit to pursue the cyber criminals and understand the full impact of the attack. There are obviously some significant implications of this, which we are managing and will take measures to secure our systems even further in the future.
“We are working with the local Police and Authority, Department for Education, Cyber support and various ICT system providers to move this forward and ensure that necessary and appropriate systems are in place for the new academic year.
“Stakeholders will be contacted about this with updates as and when we are able to provide them.”
In response to the attack, Lanesend Primary has announced that pupils will not return to school at the beginning of September as planned, but will instead head back to classrooms 3 days later on the 6th September.
A statement from the school reads:
“Having spoken to our service provider, we understand that the attack means that all the information that we stored with them has been encrypted. This means we cannot and will not be able to access it again.
“As you can imagine, the team now have hours, days, and months of work ahead of them to recreate the information that has been lost. In order to assist with this painstaking process, the Trustees have approved the school to close for 3 extra days at the end of the summer holidays. This means the children will not be returning to school until Monday 6th September 2021. We ask that you are patient with the team during this period.”
It has not yet been announced as to whether Carisbrooke, Medina, Barton, Hunnyhill, and the VI Form Campus students will also return to school late.