The entire IT network of the Swedesboro-Woolwich School District in Gloucester County, New Jersey, has been crippled by ransomware demanding 500 bitcoins, currently worth roughly $122,500.
The District is home to four elementary schools in the area. The schools’ operational activities have been disrupted considerably. E-mail, documents and online resources have been rendered inaccessible. The scheduled Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams, which are administered online, have been delayed.
Superintendent Terry Van Zoeren said that with the systems down, teachers and students are “operating like it’s 1981.”
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Several local and federal law enforcement agencies have become involved in the investigation. They include the Woolwich Township Police, the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office’s High Tech Crimes Unit, New Jersey State Police, FBI and Homeland Security.
Bitcoin’s decentralized nature will make it extraordinarily difficult to track down the extortionists, let alone enforce the safe return of any surrendered bitcoins.
The attack bears some resemblance to other recent high profile cases. Police departments in Tennessee and Illinois had critical files locked up by such malware, also demanding a figure of 500- only in dollars. The departments had no choice but to accede to the demands.
It has yet to be determined if the malware is a derivative of the dreaded Cryptolocker virus, which has reportedly affected over 500,000 victims.