Nantucket Public Schools reopened Thursday after being closed for two days due to a ransomware attack that crippled the district's computer systems and impacted its security capabilities.
"Our phones and internet have been restored and are up and running," Superintendent Beth Hallett said in a message sent to the school community Wednesday night. "Therefore, school will be in session tomorrow, Thursday, February 2, as a regular school day."
The cyberattack was first detected by school officials Tuesday morning, prompting superintendent Beth Hallett to dismiss more than 1,700 students and all staff members at noon "for the safety and security of all."
The ransomware attack compromised the school system's computers, prompting staff to shut down the internet along with all student and staff devices - including phones and security cameras.
In the hours after the attack and early dismissal on Tuesday, the school engaged outside data security experts to work with its own information technology department staff to restore the district's computers and internet service. But by Tuesday evening, it was clear the issues had not yet been resolved.
"Out of an abundance of caution, we will be cancelling school tomorrow, Wednesday, Feb. 1, for all staff and students," Hallett wrote in a message to the school community.
Ransomware is a form of malicious software - sometimes called malware - that prevents computer owners from accessing their files, systems or networks, and demands the payment of a ransom for their return.
Hallett declined to comment on whether the Nantucket Public Schools had received a demand for a ransom or share further details on the investigation. The hope, she said, was to have the schools reopen by Thursday "but we will see how tomorrow goes."
Nantucket School Committee chair Tim Lepore told the Current Tuesday evening that law enforcement is involved in the case.
“I think the feds have been made aware," Lepore said. "“The reason schools are closed tomorrow (Wednesday) is the issues around the security. That’s the main reason and we’ve got a lot of emphasis on that because it’s important. Beth (Hallett) has got everyone working on this thing.”
It is not uncommon for schools to be targeted by ransomware attacks. Earlier this month, the Swansea, Mass., school district canceled classes due to a similar attack, and there have been four other ransomware cases at schools across the country in January.
“The ransomware attacks on school districts across the country are a stark reminder that as a country we need to ensure our citizens are cyber literate,” Kevin Nolten, vice president of Cyber Innovation Center, a not-for-profit supported by federal grant money that promotes cybersecurity curricula in K-12 schools, told CNN.
In a subsequent message to the Nantucket school community on Tuesday, administrators warned parents and students: "Please do not use any school issued devices at home; they could compromise home networks."
Meanwhile, the Boys & Girls Club opened its doors at noon on Tuesday to accommodate the students leaving the public school campus following the early dismissal. The Club also announced that it would be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday as a result of the school closure, with free pizza from Sophie T's "thanks to our generous business sponsors."
Jamie Foster, the Club's executive director, said the response was made possible by staff members stepping up to help given the unprecedented situation.
Our House, the new gathering place for island youth on Wherowhero Lane, will be open from noon to 5 p.m., also providing lunch for students. The organization's van will be pared in front of the high school at noon for pickups.
This is a developing story and we will provide further updates as more information becomes available.