South Carolina schools’ Board of Education discusses ransomware

CONWAY, S.C. (WBTW) – Monday, behind closed doors, the Board of Education at Horry County Schools in South Carolina discussed an update regarding its network security plan after a virus held the district’s servers for ransom.

The hack occurred more than a week ago, but the district is still in the process of rebooting its servers.

Charlese Hucks is the Executive Director of Technology for Horry County Schools. He has been working with the department to get the servers back online and figure how the hack occurred.

“A compromise of some type, if you’re connected to the internet, period, is going to happen,” said Hucks. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” he added.

The district says it contacted the FBI and SLED immediately after realizing its system had been compromised.

The FBI tells News 13 they cannot comment on specifics and SLED has not been able to say much either, and the district says it was the same for them with law enforcement.

“As far as assisting us, or guiding us, or telling us what to do, that really has not been the case,” said Hucks.

Hucks says the hack came in through an outdated server used only to house information. Because of this, he has spent the last week trying to get as many of the district’s 380 servers back online.

“As of this point and time, we have not paid any of the ransom, even though we have been approved to pay it,” he said.

The district’s servers have been held at about an $8,500 ransom. Hucks says they have gotten about 85% back online and it’s possible because of the work technology department has put in they might not have to pay has high of a ransom.

News 13 asked if the servers are backed up, and it’s possible to reboot them, why pay at all.

“It’s not just convenience to me. When you’re talking about the operations of the school it’s the business sense of saying this data important and every day goes by that I have to operate without this date it impacts operation,” he said.

More than 40,000 teachers and students rely on the servers. The goal is to get school operations back to full potential so they can work without any issues.

That’s why ransom has been considered.

And the district is already making changes.

“We’ve already installed a lot more security issues without going into the major detail,” said Horry County Board of Education Chairman Joe Defeo.

Hucks presented behind closed doors to the board Monday night.  Defeo says Hucks and he’s team operated quickly and made the right decisions.

So when is the line drawn to pay or not to pay? Well there is no straight answer for that.

District officials says $8,500 isn’t a lot for what the data is worth, but if it was more paying might not be an option.

There is no set policy in place for when to draw a line and if the district does choose to pay any of the ransom it will come out of the general fund. They do not have an insurance policy that covers this.

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