Kingswood schools fall prey to cyber criminals

April 28 2021

SEVERAL schools in Kingswood are still coping with the after-effects of a devastating attack on their computer systems.

Kings’ Forest Primary, St Stephen’s Infants, St Stephen’s Junior and New Horizons Learning Centre were among 24 schools in South Gloucestershire hit by the cyber crooks in March.

Councillors heard that hundreds of devices had had to be rebuilt and some schools returning after the Easter break were still unable to use whiteboards, laptops and other vital equipment and resources.

The “highly sophisticated” ransomware attack by cyber criminals on Castle School Education Trust (CSET) affected not only its seven schools but 17 others maintained by the local authority who relied on the academy group’s IT infrastructure.

Live lessons had to be cancelled and parents’ evenings postponed.

The problems were the last thing that schools needed just after all pupils returned to classrooms after the latest lockdown. 

Councillor Alison Evans, a parent, teacher and school governor, told the council’s cabinet on April 12, of the impact.

She 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.

“This added pressure and workload on top of the unprecedented demands of the last year has been immense for our educational professionals and the end still seems unsure.

Cabinet member for education Cllr Erica Williams told the meeting: “I would like to congratulate our officers who were very swift to respond to this attack but also the digital team who have taken in devices to make them more secure. All departments involved are working as fast as they can to resolve this for the schools involved.”

Ransomware is malicious software digital extortionists use to block people from accessing their own data.

The cyber crooks encrypt a computer system’s files and add extensions to the attacked data, holding it “hostage” until the demanded ransom is paid.

A council spokesman said: “We understand that no ransom has been paid. From the information received from the police and CSET they believe that no personal data has been impacted.  The impact on each individual school has varied and depends on how they have structured their IT."