By Rick Harvey RHarvey@cherryroad.com
The computer system at the Berryville School District was hacked last week, causing the district to lose internet access and use of computers. The district also lost phone services temporarily.
“Our system here was compromised and we had to shut off all of our internet and take our system down,” Superintendent Owen Powell said Thursday, Dec. 15. “We basically have to wipe [everything] clean and go to our backup and restore it.
“That’s the process we’re in right now.” It’s a process that could be a lengthy one, Powell said. “It’s too early to tell right now,” he said, when asked how long it will take to get things back to normal. “They’ll be working on it over Christmas [break].”
The school district posted an update on its Facebook page on Friday, Dec. 16, stating: “Earlier this week, Berryville SD was the victim of a cyber attack. This affected our local internet server. Our student and employee information is not stored on our server. Those web-based programs were not compromised. We remain without internet and email. However, we are working diligently, along with the state department, to resolve this issue.”
Powell said the compromise happened at approximately 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14, and was discovered by staff when they arrived for work that day. An Arkansas Department of Education staff member traveled to Berryville that same day to assist in investigating the hack.
“It happened overnight, and we found out about it when it was discovered that computers weren’t acting like they should,” Powell said. “As soon as it happened, we contacted the state department of education, and they sent somebody here to help us with the process.”
All laptop and desktop computers used in offices and classroom were affected, Powell said, and have to be individually wiped clean before being backed up.
“It’s a slow process,” he said. “We just basically have everything shut down and we’re deleting everything that’s on laptops and desktops. Our system is backed up at the [Ozarks Unlimited Resources Education Service Cooperative] in Harrison.
“We’ve already gone to Harrison and got [the backup] and once we delete everything, we can run the backup and get things back running.”
Powell said he wanted to assure the community that no personal information of staff or students was accessed.
“That’s all web-based,” he said. “And our information from finance, all that is web-based through the Department of Education. None of that was compromised.”
It was not known late last week if any law enforcement agency would get involved in investigating the source of the hack, although Powell did say that a smaller compromise to the school district’s system has happened in the past.
“It’s happened one other time, but nothing to this scale,” he said. “The last time it was real, real minor and isolated. This one right here, though, it really got our whole system.”
The hack did provide a challenge districtwide in daily routines, Powell said. “It’s been a huge burden,” he said. “I mean there’s the communication piece. You know, obviously, we communicate with principals and staff by email and right now we don’t have email. Communication is a lot more difficult that what it normally is, and when you don’t have internet, you forget just how much you rely on the internet.
“It’s a huge inconvenience for us.” SHORT BOARD MEETING
Powell said the monthly school board meeting held Monday, Dec. 12 was quick with few actions taken.
The board did approve a new purchase service for testing, approved fundraisers for the GT program, senior high cheerleading and FFA and out-of-state travel for a fifth-grade trip to Dogwood Canyon in Missouri.
“We also had some of our fourth-grade teachers and students at the meeting to talk about their i-Ready scores,” Powell said. “We’re seeing some good growth and improvement in our fourth-grade scores and the board got to hear about it and recognize them for their hard work.”
The board also approved the resignations of Emily Bolton (high school teacher) Shelby Scitern (middle school paraprofessional), Brittany Dorsey (middle school cafeteria manager) and Patricia Worley (cafeteria worker) and the hiring of Rachel Frank (middle school teacher) and Miki Golaway (middle school paraprofessional).