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Nantucket Public Schools reopen as district copes with ransomware attack

Photo by Jason Graziadei
File photo of Nantucket Elementary School.

Update: Thursday, Feb 2

Nantucket public schools are reopening today after a ransomware attack disrupted the district's online service and security.

School leaders say they've made significant progress in coping with the attack and have restored the district's phones and Internet.

Students can use school-issued Chromebooks, but no outside devices are allowed in school for now.

No information has been released on any demands made by the attackers.

Schools not often a focus of cyber crime

Lance Fiondella, director of the Cybersecurity Center at UMass Dartmouth, says schools are not often a target for cyber-attacks. But expanded networks and advancing technology have made institutions more vulnerable.

Fiondella said it’s often impossible to pin down the source of these attacks – and that’s why education about cyber-security is key.

"We need to do a more holistic and community-based approach to protecting everybody, from the elderly to making sure that kids can go to school," Fiondella said. "Ultimately the question is, 'Who would attack me? Why would they attack me?' And it's not always the usual suspects."

Wednesday, Feb 1

The Nantucket Public Schools remain closed today as the district works to recover from a ransomware attack that led to a midday closure yesterday.

In a voice message to the school community, Supt. Beth Hallett said the attack forced the schools to shut down all computers used by students and staff.

Because so many devices are networked — including the student Chromebooks, the phone system, security cameras, and even photocopiers — shutting down the network creates a significant disruption. Teachers and students can’t access their day-to-day work.

Yet the main reason the schools are closed is safety, said high school English teacher Page Martineau, president of the Nantucket Teachers’ Association.

“We don't have phones. We don't have cameras,” she said. “I mean, clearly it's a real inconvenience for teachers, but the safety part is the reasoning behind shutting things down.”

“If something's happening in our classrooms, if there's an emergency … I mean, we can't depend on, say, cell phones,” she said.

In a second message to the school community, Hallett told students not to use any school-issued devices at home because doing so could compromise their home networks.

Pre-kindergarten students were dismissed at 11 a.m. yesterday and the rest of the students by noon.

Athletic events were scheduled to go on as planned.

The Nantucket schools have also been having a problem with door locks.

Martineau said some employees’ door cards haven’t been opening the doors properly since Saturday. She said she doesn’t know if it’s related to the ransomware.

A ransomware attack can lock a computer system or individual files. Typically, the attacker threatens to keep the files locked or publish private data unless the victim pays a ransom.

It’s unclear what, if any, ransom demand has been made against the Nantucket schools.

A previous ransomware attack targeted the Steamship Authority in June of 2021.

In 2019, an attacker demanded the equivalent of $5.3 million in bitcoin from the City of New Bedford.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.
Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.