Herricks preps for cyber attack after other districts hit

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Herricks Superintendent Fino Celano said "bogus emails" have been sent to faculty pretending to be him. (Photo by Tom McCarthy)

Herricks Superintendent Fino Celano said despite receiving “bogus emails,” the school district’s computer network has not been compromised like other districts in Nassau County and the administration has taken precautions to educate staff, back up data and take out new insurance policies to prepare for a potential cyber attack.

At an Aug. 29 meeting, Celano said faculty members have been urged to be careful when opening emails from outside the school system.

“We’re continually trying to educate our staff and faculty that they should be very cautious in opening emails,” Celano said.

Celano said that there have even been “bogus emails” going around in the network, including some pretending to be from him.

“Who would want to be me? I don’t know… The person was claiming to be me, signed my name to this email, but if you looked at it carefully, it did not come from my email address,” Celano said. “So that’s what we’re asking everyone to do at the organization — to look carefully at the email addresses and if it doesn’t look familiar delete it.”

Celano said that aside from emphasizing deleting outside emails without opening them, another initiative the administration is taking is to back up all data on the network in case of a breach. Celano and the board said that the school is also copying its data onto offline backup systems along with an Apple Cloud backup.

Celano said the school’s technology directors will be attending a meeting at Nassau BOCES where Department of Homeland Security representatives will brief them on how to avoid data breaches.

He also said the district has taken out a new state insurance policy under which damages from cyber attacks will be covered.

Nassau’s Rockville Center schools and the Mineola School District have fallen victim recently to “malware attacks” in which their computer networks were breached, compromised and held hostage for a ransom payment.

According to the Patch newsite, Rockville Centre paid $90,000 to hackers who had encrypted all of the district’s files in late July.

Mineola schools, however, did not pay the ransom because Superintendent Michael Nagler told an Aug. 23 meeting that no sensitive information had been breached in an Aug. 4 attack in which all faculty members were locked out of their computer network. Mineola schools are currently working on getting all lost data back.

“Since that time on Aug. 4, we have taken everything offline, everything that we possibly could get off the network,” Nagler said.

Nagler said that his school would not be the last to suffer from a similar cyber attack.

Basing his assumption on sources he has in Homeland Security, Nagler said, “it is their belief that a majority of school districts have the virus unbeknownst to them and I believe it is going to become more common.”

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