HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) -- The first day of school in Hartford was postponed on Tuesday after a ransomware attacked crippled critical systems.
Both in-person and remote learning were postponed, impacting about 18,000 students, and a new started date has yet to be announced.
Ransomware attacks targeting state and local governments have been on the rise, with cyber criminals seeking quick money by seizing data and holding it hostage until they get paid.
Experts say it happens all too often, and it’s happening more and more to school systems and cities all across the United States.
“We've seen a lot of ransomware attacks in the past couple of years. Things have quieted down for the beginning of this year with all the COVID stuff, but in the past two weeks, we've seen it up and down the east coast,” said Tim Weber, director of security services at Adnet Technologies.
He said schools in Miami and North Carolina were recently hit.
There were 15 attacks against school systems in August and September of last year in Connecticut.
Municipalities have also been attacked in places like Plymouth, Colchester, Portland, Hamden, Middletown, Wallingford, Watertown, Wolcott, and now Hartford.
“It sounds like Hartford had really good back-up systems in place, which is critical because if you don't have back-ups in place, then you're stuck with paying the ransom, which no one wants you to do,” Weber said.
In Hartford, officials say they don't believe private or personal information was stolen in the attack, but Weber says it might be too early to tell.
“In the last year or so, some of the threats have changed, so depending which version of ransomware, there could be data that was taken. And they've done that to make people pay because that's the cyber attackers end goal,” he said.
With more than 200 of the district's servers impacted, files have likely become encrypted, and sometimes that forces victims to pay up, as the end goal for these criminals is money.
“Cyber-crime, at this point, causes more financial losses than all other organized crime combined. It's lucrative. Sadly, it's a business model for organizations around the world. When you get hit with one of these attacks, you don't know if it's someone down the street or somewhere else in the global,” Weber said.
The FBI is now involved in the Hartford case.
As for preventing this, Weber said municipalities and school districts need to have protection software in place that can detect these kinds of threats.
Assessments of the system should be done every year.