Schools in Arizona's Flagstaff closed for second day due to cyberattack

Schools in Arizona's Flagstaff closed for second day due to cyberattack

Schools in Flagstaff, Ariz., were closed for a second day in a row on Friday as the school district struggled to recover from a debilitating ransomware attack.

The Flagstaff Unified School District (FUSD), which includes 15 schools and more than 9,600 students, canceled classes on both Thursday and Friday after a ransomware virus was found on multiple servers. Preschools and child care centers within FUSD were also closed. 

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FUSD spokesman Zachery Fountain told The Hill the choice was made to sever internet connections at school facilities to contain the virus.

Ransomware viruses typically encrypt systems and demand payment, often in the form of bitcoin, before allowing a user to access the system again.

“Unfortunately, revoking the internet accessibility, while enhancing security, limited our ability to hold school as a number of our systems were simultaneously taken down by that one decision - requiring that we close schools until our regular business systems and back-up systems are fully available,” Fountain said.

“This has taken time and now has moved into a second day of school closures while final steps are taken so that school can take place on Monday,” he added.

Fountain declined to comment on details around who the attackers involved were due to an ongoing investigation. 

An alert on FUSD’s website noted that “progress was made today in securing critical FUSD systems, but unfortunately, work will need to continue through the weekend to ensure that students can return to school on Monday.”

Flagstaff is the latest in a string of school districts to be hit by a ransomware attacks in recent months.

School districts in Oklahoma, New York and Virginia have been been victims of ransomware, while in Louisiana the governor declared a state of emergency after multiple school districts were crippled by a ransomware attack. 

School districts are not alone in being victims of these types of attacks. Almost two dozen Texas small towns and other government entities were simultaneously hit by a ransomware attack last month, while the governments of Atlanta and Baltimore are still recovering from major ransomware attacks in the last year.