The South Knox School Corp. has gone old school — quite literally.

Superintendent Tim Grove said the corporation was hit with a kind of malware — software intentionally designed to cause damage to a computer, server or network — late Friday afternoon.

Hundreds of computers, he said, were compromised, so for the time being, South Knox has had to go technology-free.

“I'm not clear on a lot of the details just yet,” Grove said. “But our tech department is working alongside our provider to isolate the situation.

“And I think we're going to have to do some rebuilding.”

Grove said IT specialists alongside engineers from the school corporation's software provider, Think Tank, are painstakingly going through every computer to check for damage; they haven't yet found the source of the malware, Grove said Monday morning.

He also said, at least right now, he doesn't believe what struck the school corporation was a piece of ransomware, which is designed to hold an entity's data hostage until a financial demand has been met.

Grove said he's not aware “of any ransom note” at this time.

He is, however, confident that no one's sensitive, personal information was hacked as a result of the malware virus.

“We're not sure yet what all they got into,” he said, “but that was one of the first things we checked — the extent as to how much if at all they reached any personal information.”

Currently, Grove said the school corporation is acting without any computers at all. And seeing as how their phone system is internet-based, much of that is down as well.

He's asking for everyone's patience, he said, while they figure it all out.

“Calling the schools may or may not get you connected right away,” he said. “Instruction is going on, we're just not using a lot of computer-based information.

“We're not quite ready to send out smoke signals,” he quipped. “But we are contemplating getting a carrier pigeon.”

But in all seriousness, Grove said the school corporation was well-poised for such an attack. IT professionals do daily and weekly checks, and all of the school's data and is regularly backed up.

Once they find the source of the malware and get everyone back online, it will only be a matter of time before all student information is completely restored, he said.

And with students out Friday and Monday for Fall Break, the timing, Grove added, could certainly have been worse.

“From a timing standpoint,” he said, “if it's going to happen — and I certainly wouldn't wish it on anybody — it's a decent time for us to have to address it.”

Grove said IT crews began to receive the first complaints about 4 p.m. on Friday. Most teachers and staff, he said, had left for the weekend, but there were a few stragglers there doing some last-minute work.

Those teachers, he said, began reporting some anomalies, things like files suddenly being duplicated on their desktops.

“So they reached out to say, 'Hey, something is going on here.'”

One thing that will be held up, he said, are the issuance of mid-term grade cards, although most parents, using the existing software, are able to follow their child's progress on a day-to-day basis.

It's quite possible, he said, that some of that more up-to-date student information won't be available during parent/teacher conferences scheduled for later this week.

“We're still going to have those,” Grove said of the conferences, “we may just not have specific information to share.”

Moving forward, Grove said the priority will be in restoring the school corporation's phone system. The student information system will be next, then they'll address other issues from there.

But he stressed, again, that the damage seems to be minimal.

“We may have to rebuild some of our systems,” he said, “but it shouldn't be as difficult as it sounds.”

Grove, too, said they will have some serious discussions when this is all said and done.

“This sort of thing can happen, I know that,” he said. “But I also know this will cause us to start talking about it. I want to know, what did we do that was right? We tend to always start off talking about what went wrong. But let's start with what went right. What are we doing that worked?

“Then we can talk about what didn't work and how we can make it better.”

Grove said he hopes to have all of South Knox's computers and phone systems back up and running by the time students return to school one week from today.
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