Ransomware attack against Ava, Mo. School District fails, prompts strengthening of network

AVA, Mo. -- It's been happening all across the country and now it's happened here in the Ozarks. Scammers are hacking into the computer servers of school districts and cities, holding their data for ransom

Ransom notes mysteriously shot out of printers in the Ava School District, demanding money to get information back.

The district shut down its network as a precaution.

Ava's Superintendent doesn't think a Ransomeware attack that hit early Thursday morning got any important data.

He notified staff and parents.

Now it's all about making sure this doesn't happen again.

Ava School Superintendent Dr. Jason Dial can breathe a sigh of relief tonight.

"It could have been a lot worse. We still got compromised. We found some holes," Dial told KY3.

On Thursday morning, across the district, ransom notes popped out of district printers.

The notes said to send an email for a code, which would show the hackers had control.

Then the district would have to pay up to get the information back.

"We would have not have done that. We're not in that business," Dial exclaimed.

Dr. Dial says Ava uses encrypted data, stores information on off-site servers and has a good backup system, so the district's financial, employee and student information was never threatened.

“We found some holes. We're in the middle of fixing those. We knew some were there, that we were in the middle of fixing anyway. So we feel really comfortable about moving forward," Dial added.

But Computer 911 Repair owner Joshua Abernathy says everyone should stay on their toes moving forward.

“It actually takes the files and encrypts those files so that they're inaccessible by you without a password," Abernathy explained.

Abernathy says Ransomware attacks are becoming more common. He wouldn’t be surprised to see more attacks, even in rural places like Ava.

“It's an easy target to make money, Abernathy said. That's what it is. You know they're going to lock your files, ask you for money, ransom, to get the files back. Most of the time you don't even get them back."

wThe district feels good about its response. Still, Dr. Dial is using this experience as a learning opportunity.

"We're going to start spoofing our own employees. Our technology department is going to send an email from an unknown address and see if they're opening that, to try and help train them to learn how to keep viruses off our network," Dial told KY3.

Dr. Dial says the district does have a cyber-insurance policy that covers for things like ransomware hacks.

Wednesday, district employees met with a cyber security company to ensure that no important information was stolen during the hack.