School cyber attack locked teachers out of more than 1,000 computers

April 19 2021
School cyber attack locked teachers out of more than 1,000 computers

A CYBER attack on 24 South Gloucestershire schools knocked out servers and left teachers locked out of vital equipment and files.

The full extent of the “disruptive and distressing” ransomware attack on seven Castle School Education Trust (CSET) schools, and another 17 local authority primary schools which used the trust's IT systems, was revealed at a session of the council's cabinet.

The CSET schools hit by the “highly sophisticated” attack on March 16, were Downend, Mangotsfield, the Castle and Marlwood secondary schools, plus Charfield, Lyde Green and Severn Beach primaries.

In addition Blackhorse Primary, Bromley Heath Infants, Bromley Heath Juniors, Christ Church Infants, Emersons Green Primary, Frampton Cotterell Primary, Frenchay CE Primary, Hambrook Primary, Kings Forest Primary, Mangotsfield CE Primary, St Michael’s Primary in Winterbourne, Staple Hill Primary, Samuel Whites Infant, Hanham Abbotts Junior, St Stephen’s Infant and Junior schools and New Horizons Learning Centre were also affected.

The cabinet meeting on April 12 was told that more than 1,000 devices are having to have their systems rebuilt, and many teachers started the new term on April 19 without access to laptops, whiteboards, printers and photocopiers.

Some live lessons had to be cancelled and parents’ evenings postponed.

Ransomware is malicious software which encrypts a computer system’s files and blocks people from accessing data, holding it 'hostage' until a ransom is paid.

A council spokesperson said no ransom had been paid and "no personal data has been impacted" by the attack.

The council says 16 servers have now been rebuilt, back office systems are in place and services are being restored, giving every school “core functionality and access to management information”, with some schools affected worse than others.

The spokesperson said the worst impact was on teachers who kept resources in files on their computers, as web or cloud-based data was unaffected.

Cllr Alison Evans (Lab, Woodstock), who is a parent, teacher and school governor, said: “I know from personal experience just how disruptive and distressing this attack has been, as my husband is a teacher at one of the targeted schools.

“Years of topic lesson and intervention plans have been stolen.

“The last year’s remote learning including countless video lessons has been lost.

“Teachers have been unable to use the technology they’ve spent the last year fully integrating into their teaching.

“Online registers, payment assessments, coursework, children’s reports, teacher appraisals and more have been inaccessible for the last month."

Cabinet member for education Erica Williams said officers had responded swiftly to the attack and digital experts had taken in devices to make them more secure.

She said: “All departments involved are working as fast as they can to resolve this for the schools involved.”

By Adam Postans and Amanda Cameron, Local Democracy Reporting Service