Forsyth Public Schools were hit with computer malware over the weekend, causing problems for teachers, students, parents and district administrators.
The good news, Superintendent Dinny Bennett said, is that whoever did the damage “did not hack our system to take information, just to corrupt it.”
The software program that ran the student management system has been restored and no student data were lost, Bennett said.
Teachers weren’t so lucky. Most of their information—lesson plans, schedules and the like—was in the form of publicly available formats like Word and PowerPoint and stored on the district’s server. The district’s IT person is still working to recover the teachers’ files, Bennett said, so “there’s still hope, but not that much.”
The district should know by tomorrow how much can be recovered from the Visions program, which was used to run the district’s payroll. More than likely, he said, “we’ll have to do some tasks by hand for a while.”
Bennett also said that reports of Chinese involvement in the hacking were not true.
“The Chinese weren’t responsible,” he said. “But all the symbols looked like that of Chinese.” The symbols were what people saw when they tried to access information on the district’s server.
Forsyth High School Principal Shelly Weight said the student information was the easiest to retrieve because the district uses the Schoolmaster management system licensed by Tyler Technologies. A technician with Schoolmaster worked with the IT person in Forsyth to remove the malware from that system, Weight said.
The student management system allows students to see assignments online and allows parents to monitor their children’s grades in real time, Weight said.
Bennett said the problem began either Friday or Saturday. They are not sure which because Friday was a PIR day, devoted to in-service training, but the problem was discovered Saturday.
The hackers sent the district three emails, each one warning that if “ransom” wasn’t paid, the district’s computer system would be hacked. The messages were ignored, Bennett said, and the district’s server was hacked and corrupted on Saturday.
Weight said there were some disruptions, but “teachers were able to carry on with teaching and learning. They just had to make some adjustments.”
One teacher, she said, was going to correct assignments submitted by students who were gone because of FFA activities last week. The assignments were in the teacher’s private folder and were lost, she said, so the students will have to do other assignments or make other arrangements.
Another glitch was that the quarter ended Thursday and grades were supposed to go out today, Tuesday. As it is, Weight said, they will be sent to parents on Wednesday instead.
A spokesman in the state Office of Public Instruction said officials there had not had any communication with Forsyth Public Schools about the problem, and they had not heard any reports of similar problems from other Montana schools.