Podcast | An Inside Look at a K-12 Ransomware Incident

Episode 18: An Inside Look at a K-12 Ransomware Incident

Update: Don’t miss Part 2! Listen to our interview with Northshore School District’s Senior Systems Engineer and Lead Unix Server Support to hear about the incident from their perspectives. Listen here >>

Ransomware continues to be the focus of K-12 cybersecurity teams as the 2021-22 school year gets going. School districts spent the summer making updates and improving their security strategies for another year of remote and hybrid learning. However, the Center for Internet Security reported that cybersecurity incidents aimed at districts are expected to increase by 86%.

Of the incidents experienced by school districts, ransomware is the one that keeps district IT teams up at night. It’s also the type of incident getting the most attention. This is because ransomware locks districts from their data, causes school closures, and can also expose the personally identifiable information of students and staff. It’s critical for IT teams to have the measures in place to detect ransomware, phishing, and other types of cyberattacks early on to mitigate the damage caused.

In this week’s episode of The K-12 Tech Experience podcast, we have Jon Wiederspan, a Network Operations Manager at Northshore School District in Washington state. Jon came onto the podcast to share his experience going through a ransomware attack that Northshore School District suffered in October 2019. Jon shared great insights into what takes place behind the scenes throughout the recovery process, what Northshore has done since to be better prepared going forward, and what the early signs of ransomware are that district IT teams need to be aware of.

Keep reading to learn more about Jon, Northshore School District, and to get a preview of the conversation (edited for clarity). Subscribe to The K-12 Tech Experience podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts so that you never miss an episode!

JK: How about we start by having you share more about yourself and your career so far, as well as some background on Northshore School District for our listeners.

JW: I started with the district in 1998. I came in after some time with an internet startup and then I worked at the University of Washington before that in software design. At the time I started here, the district was primarily a Macintosh district with over 8,000 Macintoshes for staff and students. There was very little Windows involvement. I started with just one network person, but as we’ve built out our own fiber-optic WAN and increased servers, additional staff have been added. Now we’re a team of nine people.

Northshore School District is currently a district with over 23,000 students and 35 schools. We’re located just north of Seattle—really just north of the big Microsoft campus in Redmond. We cover the north end of Lake Washington. We have a history of good support from our community, so we’ve always had good funding for technology through bonds and levies the community votes in. Now, instead of 8,000 Macs, we now have 23,000 – 25,000 devices.

JK: As you’re talking about those changes, has Northshore shifted more to the cloud in the past five to eight years? As Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 became more popular.

JW: Definitely—it’s been the last six or seven years. The first big move was eight years ago when we set up our Google online domain. It was sort of an experimental effort because it was immediately apparent how useful it would be to have joined editing on documents. We have now made a huge investment in Google. We have millions of documents in there. All of our students have their email in there.

About five years ago, we banned working with Microsoft services as well. Three years ago, we actually moved all of our email and calendar into Microsoft, which turned out to be very nice when we got hit by a ransomware attack and our email stayed up. We have now since moved a majority of our end users—students, teachers, parents—to hosted services.

Listen to the rest of our conversation with Jon below and check out previous episodes on the ManagedMethods podcast page. Make sure to subscribe to The K-12 Tech Experience wherever you listen to your podcasts, so you never miss an episode!

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