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Responding to an Attack

Flagstaff Unified School District teachers, administrators and staff brought in more than 400 laptops and 2,000 desktops to Sinagua Middle School Friday to be checked for malware viruses and to have new security firewalls installed after a ransom demand shut down computer servers in the school district leading to schools being closed on Thursday and Friday.

Students will return to Flagstaff Unified School District schools on Monday, the district announced Sunday afternoon.

FUSD officials worked over the weekend to try to resolve a cybersecurity issue that forced all schools to close Thursday and Friday.

Officials said they were working to secure critical internet-based systems while investigating the origin and possible damage resulting from the ransomware in the district's computer system. It was discovered Wednesday.

Officials cut off access to the internet and hundreds of teachers and other district employees on Friday turned in their Windows devices so they could be scanned for contamination and have new malware protection installed.

In a process resembling student registration check-ins, employees filled out papers listing their names, ID numbers and contact information before proceeding to tables where devices were catalogued before being taken away for restoration.

"If we don't do this, we're at risk of re-infestation because there could be a contaminated machine that, when they turn the system back on, could cause us to lose all the work that we've done in the last couple of days," Superintendent Mike Penca said.

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Staffers had used the middle school's library computers -- already cleaned and protected -- to learn how to install the necessary software protections on more than 2,000 district devices.

IT personnel from Computer Community College and other organizations were helping the school district's own staff.

The ransomware — a form of malware that typically requests payment in exchange for access to locked computers — was spotted when a message popped up.

District Technology Director Mary Knight said the message did not include a specific dollar amount but had untraceable contact information to encourage negotiation.

The district wouldn't consider doing that, she said.

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