North Alabama school systems training staff to avoid cyber attacks

The cyber attack impacting Huntsville City Schools has other local school systems on alert.

Posted: Dec 1, 2020 9:04 PM
Updated: Dec 1, 2020 9:35 PM

The cyber attack impacting Huntsville City Schools has other local school systems on alert.

School leaders in Decatur said that while they are doing everything they can to protect people's information, they can't stop someone from getting into the system, but they can slow them down.

That's why it's so important for students, staff and teachers to be trained to recognize phishing emails, which is a fraudulent attempt to get sensitive information from people.

Decatur City Schools teaches their staff to almost never click on a link in an email unless they are certain it is legitimate and to double check with their colleagues if they are concerned about an email they sent on their school account.

"We monitor everything that happens on our network here in Decatur City Schools. We filter it for appropriate content and try and keep those websites that might have links that would lead them to not just inappropriate content, but things that are not safe for our network," said Emily Elam, Supervisor of Technology for Decatur City Schools.

School leaders say no system can protect from outside intrusions 100% of the time.

The Alabama Department of Education has been working with Huntsville City Schools, though, to mitigate the cyber security attack.

Dr. Eric Mackey has been in contact with Huntsville City Schools since Monday morning, right after they discovered the cyber security attack. He says the school district is on the right track to handling the situation, and he understands that schools today are run on technology, so when it goes down, schools have to step back and assess the issues.

"It's unfortunate that in a very challenging school year, there would be such heinous acts that would be committed against school systems, and the thing that bothers me the most is that there are nefarious actors out there who obviously don't care about the good of school children," said Dr. Eric Mackey, Alabama Superintendent of Education.

Dr. Mackey is pleased, though, that there have not been more attacks on school systems in the state. He says there's only been six in the past 18 months, and the Alabama Department of Education was anticipating more cyber attacks this fall with so many Alabama students learning virtually.

But the Huntsville City Schools cyber attack is not the first attack on school systems in Alabama.

David Sewell said that Houston County Schools had to push back their schools' start date by a month after they discovered a malware attack in their system. He says they had to shut down all their servers and start wiping them clean, but they were lucky enough to have some backups, so not everything was lost.

Sewell hopes that Huntsville City Schools backed up some of their data so they don't have to start from scratch.

"Make certain that they have several good backups of each and every program. I'd be looking for a company that could help me monitor my system. You know, someone who does this for a living," said David Sewell, Houston County Schools Superintendent.

The Houston County School system had to go and check every individual computer in every school because they did not know where the cyber security attack originated from in the system.

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