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Athens ISD computers hacked; district will pay $50K cryptocurrency ransom

The attack delayed the school district's start date from Aug. 3 to Aug. 10.

ATHENS, Texas — Athens ISD is delaying its school start date from Aug. 3 to Aug. 10, but not because of COVID-19. A news release Wednesday said the school district was the victim of a ransomware attack that "wreaked havoc" on the district's computers.

The ransomware attack encrypted all of the data stored on district servers, including "a few hundred" computers and multiple data backups, according to the release. As a result, school officials have no way of accessing student grades, class assignments, student schedules or teacher communications. 

School officials said they do not believe any personal data was stolen.

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“The first thing we want to do is ensure our staff and student families that, to the best of our knowledge, no personal data has been compromised,” Athens ISD superintendent Janie Sims said in the release. “Whoever is behind this attack has not taken the information; they have encrypted it so that we have no access unless we meet their ransom demand.”

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The school board voted Wednesday to pay a $50,000 ransom to the hackers, a sum that is covered under the cyberattack policy in the district's insurance, the release said. The ransom will be paid using a cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin. The district said its IT employees are also working hard to fix the problem.

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“We can’t afford to not pay it,” school board president Alicea Elliott said in the news release. “It would take us months to rebuild all that data so that we could start school.”

Sims said that similar attacks have happened in other districts across East Texas, and reiterated in the news release that there was nothing more the district could have done to be prepared for an attack like this.

Sims will tell parents no later than August 6, if the school start date will have to be pushed out another week.