Neenah schools cancel classes on Tuesday citing ‘computer security situation’

NEENAH, Wis. (WBAY) — The Neenah Joint School District canceled classes at all of its schools on Tuesday. The FBI is investigating what the school district calls a “computer security situation” that took down its Internet, phone systems and software after “potential unauthorized access” to computer systems.

In a letter to parents, the school district says it is just beginning the process of restoring affected systems and needs time to “adjust to this non-digital environment.” He hopes some services will be restored on Wednesday.

“It was a tough day at school for everyone today. It was different. It was a bit of a throwback to the good old days. There was no computer today at school and it was different for everyone,” communications manager Jim Strick said.

The letter says local and federal law enforcement has been notified and “leading cybersecurity experts” are investigating.

Superintendent Mary Pfeiffer says there is no reason at this time to believe that any personal or confidential information has been compromised, but families will be contacted if the investigation finds that information has been compromised.

The Neenah Joint School District was not the only municipality targeted.

Two years ago, the City of Oshkosh was hit by a ransomware computer viruss causing weeks of disruption, and around the same time a similar situation took place in Racine.

In this case, no ransom demand has been made and authorities are still tracking down the source.

Since this is a computer crime, the FBI has jurisdiction.

Strick added: “They did an investigation, and as far as what they’ve found so far or what they think it might be, I guess I really don’t know.”

It is likely, however, that students will be back in class on Wednesday.

“We are quite confident that the phones will be operational again tomorrow. We’re pretty confident that teachers will have access to email, and it’s hard to say about the internet and what we’ll do with it, but it will be a slow process to get things back up and running,” Strick said.

As for the cost of data recovery, the district has insurance.

Full text of the Neenah Joint School District letter to parents:

NJSD Families,

This message is to inform you that school will be canceled for Tuesday, January 11 at all schools in the Neenah Joint School District.

This closure is due to an IT security situation we experienced earlier today involving potential unauthorized access to our school system by an unknown third party. This situation caused an outage of our internet, telephone systems and several software applications. After discovering the problem, we notified local and federal law enforcement and hired top cybersecurity experts to begin a forensic investigation.

As we are just beginning to restore our affected systems and adapt to this non-digital environment, we will not have class on Tuesday. We expect phones and some other apps to be restored by Wednesday.

Although the investigation is ongoing, at this stage we have no reason to believe that any confidential or personal information has been compromised. The security of sensitive information is among our highest priorities and we ask for your patience as we work to restore our system. Part of our response includes a digital forensic investigation. We are committed to taking all appropriate measures in response to the findings of the investigation.

We will provide more information as services are restored. If at any time during our investigation we find that confidential or personal data has been compromised, you will be contacted immediately. We have an exceptional technology team and some of the best state and national agencies support us.

We know this school year has been difficult and disruptive and that only adds to the adversity we have faced. Thank you for your patience and understanding as we navigate this situation together.

Dr. Mary Pfeiffer

Neenah Joint School District Superintendent

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