School's out as cyberattack forces APS to cancel classes - Albuquerque Journal

School’s out as cyberattack forces APS to cancel classes

Students leave Washington Middle School after the dismissal bell on Wednesday. APS canceled Thursday and Friday classes for the entire district due to a cyber attack. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

A cyberattack against Albuquerque Public Schools prompted the state’s largest district to cancel all classes districtwide on Thursday and possibly Friday.

APS Superintendent Scott Elder said the attack was discovered Wednesday morning “when teachers tried to log onto our student information system and were unable to gain access to the site.”

The district is working with authorities. A spokeswoman couldn’t say whether hackers had demanded money from APS.

The district’s information technology department had been “mitigating attacks over the last few weeks,” Elder said in a brief statement aired on the district’s YouTube channel.

“This is the first time we have dealt with this situation and we are doing everything to address it that we can,” he said.

Elder said all APS classes are canceled Thursday and possibly through Friday.

APS’ 31 charter schools “may be affected because there will not be food or transportation services” on Thursday, said APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta. She said charters must decide independently whether to hold classes Thursday and inform their families and staff.

Elder stressed that the closure of APS schools “is not in any way tied to the pandemic.” He said the situation is still developing.

“APS is working with local and national law enforcement as well as teams of cyber specialists to as quickly as possible limit our exposure to this attack, to protect all systems in our network and ensure a safe environment to return to school and business as usual,” Elder said.

Armenta said the attack affected the district’s student information system, which is used by teachers to track grades, absences and other student information. The APS website states the student information system “is responsible for student information collection, management, storage and retrieval.”

APS is insured for cyberattacks, Armenta said, “to what extent I don’t know.”

She said she did not know if attackers had demanded money from the district.

“Because this is an ongoing investigation, we have limited information,” Armenta said.

The news came exactly one week after Bernalillo County announced it had been hit by a ransomware attack.

The attack on the county government’s systems forced the temporary closure of some county buildings, prompted a lockdown at the Metropolitan Detention Center and halted all legal filings with the Clerk’s Office.

The FBI said Wednesday that the APS cyberattack does not appear to be related to the attack against Bernalillo County.

New Mexico Public Education Department spokeswoman Judy Robinson said PED was notified of the attack by Elder about 1:15 p.m. Wednesday. The state agency offered technical assistance from PED IT personnel, she said.

Robinson said to her knowledge no other school districts in the state have been affected by a cyberattack.

On Wednesday afternoon, APS notified parents, students and staff by Twitter and email of the closure “due to a cyberattack that has compromised some systems that could impact teaching, learning and student safety.”

APS hoped to reopen schools on Friday, the message said. “However, if the issue isn’t resolved by midday Thursday, students, families and staff will be notified.”

APS is working with “contracted professionals to fix the problem,” the district posted on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Bernalillo County continued to struggle with consequences of its week-old cyberattack.

County Manager Julie Morgas Baca told the county’s elected, five-member commission Tuesday that the county had assistance from law enforcement and computer forensics specialists, and that its own information technology staff had been working tirelessly – “12-hour days, on weekends” – and was making progress toward recovery.

But the county so far has declined to say if it had or would pay a ransom or even if the attacker had made a specific demand.

“A crime has occurred and we acknowledge that, and we are limited to what we can say so as not to interfere with the investigation or recovery efforts,” Morgas Baca said during Tuesday’s commission meeting. “We sincerely appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding, and I just personally want to apologize, especially to our public that has been inconvenienced by this.”

A spokesman for the FBI said Wednesday the agency is aware of the latest attack on APS but would not confirm or deny it is investigating.

“However, when the FBI learns about intrusions, it’s customary that we offer our assistance in these matters, especially when it has such a direct impact on our community,” spokesman Frank Fisher said in an email to the Journal. “At this time, it does not appear the APS and Bernalillo County cyber incidents are related.”

With attacks on two other major public agencies in a week’s time, a spokeswoman for the city of Albuquerque’s Technology and Innovation Department said the municipal government is “always vigilant” when it comes to cybersecurity but declined to say whether the city had done anything different to guard itself lately.

“We do actively and continually work with our security partners,” city spokeswoman Erika Eddy said. “Security is always taken very seriously.”

Journal staff writer Matthew Reisen contributed to this report.

 

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