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Hackers try to extort millions from Allen ISD but won't prove they have data, district says

The district is not planning to pay the ransom money, based on guidance from cybersecurity experts and law enforcement.

ALLEN, Texas — Allen Independent School District officials said hackers are trying to extort the district for millions of dollars but haven't yet proven they have the data they've claimed to access.

The district is not planning to pay the ransom money, based on guidance from cybersecurity experts and law enforcement, Allen ISD superintendent Robin Bullock wrote in a letter to families Tuesday night.

"These kinds of data breaches keep school administrators up at night," said Watt Lesley Black, an SMU professor in Education Policy and Leadership.

Black told WFAA that districts do store a lot of information like phone numbers, medical information, and transcripts. But he said its important to remind parents that there is one very crucial piece of private information that parents do not have to disclose.

"Often, you’re going to be asked for social security numbers, but you don’t have to give that. Schools really don’t need it," said Black.

The hackers claimed they downloaded the personal information of students, families and staff during a cyberattack on Sept. 20.

"The first thing you want to know is what information was put at risk," said Allen ISD parent Greg Harp, who has two children in the district.

Bullock said the district's cybersecurity team has given the hackers "several opportunities to prove that they have possession of this data, yet they cannot show proof of their claim."

"While we have not seen any evidence that your personal information was exposed, I want you to know that Allen ISD takes your privacy and confidentiality seriously," Bullock wrote. "We will continue to investigate this incident, and we will contact you if your sensitive data was taken in this situation."

Allen officials first learned of the attack last week, when the district's network went out, impacting WiFi, printers and phones. The district's technology department found that the outage was because of a cybersecurity threat.

"They’re soft targets; school districts have a lot of very valuable information and are not very well equipped to protect it," said Harp, who is also in the information technology field and specializes in security. 

Harp and other parents WFAA spoke with want the district to disclose what kind of information the district stores. They also want to know who the cybersecurity experts and law enforcement agencies are that the district is utilizing.

Allen is the latest North Texas district to get hit by a cyberattack.

Dallas Independent School District officials earlier this month said electronic records were hacked in a cybersecurity breach. The district said the attack might have impacted data for current and former students, alums, parents and district employees. The district contacted federal law enforcement to investigate the attack.

Lancaster Independent School District in June also experienced a cyberattack, after hackers used a ransomware attack to dump sensitive information of 500 teachers to the dark web.

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