Neenah schools cancel classes Tuesday citing “IT security situation”

Published: Jan. 10, 2022 at 6:06 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 10, 2022 at 8:57 PM CST
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NEENAH, Wis. (WBAY) - The Neenah Joint School District canceled classes at all of its schools Tuesday. The FBI is investigating what the school district calls an “IT security situation” which knocked out its internet, phone systems and software after “potential unauthorized access” to the IT systems.

In a letter to parents, the school district says it’s just beginning the process of restoring the affected systems and needs time to “adjust to this non-digital environment.” It hopes to have some services restored Wednesday.

“It was a tough school day for everybody today. It was different. It was kind of back to the old days. There was no computers today at school and it was different for everyone,” said communications manager Jim Strick.

The letter says local and federal law enforcement were notified, and “industry-leading cyber security experts” are investigating.

Superintendent Mary Pfeiffer says there’s no reason at this time to believe personal or confidential information was compromised, but families will be contacted if the investigation does find this information was compromised.

The Neenah Joint School District hasn’t been the only municipality targeted.

Two years ago the City of Oshkosh was struck by a computer ransomware virus 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 officials are still in the process of tracking down the source.

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

Strick added, “They’ve been doing an investigation, and as far as what they found so far or what they believe it could be I guess I really don’t know.”

It’s likely, though, students will be back in the classroom on Wednesday.

“We’re pretty confident that phones will be back up and running tomorrow. We’re pretty confident teachers will have access to email, and it’s hard to say about internet and what we will be doing with that but it’s going to be a slow process getting things back up and running,” Strick said.

As for the cost of the data recovery, the district does have insurance.

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

NJSD Families,

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

This closure is due to an IT security situation that 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, phone systems and several software applications. After discovering the issue, we notified local and federal law enforcement and engaged industry-leading cyber security experts to begin a forensic investigation.

As we are just beginning to restore our affected systems and adjust to this non-digital environment, we will not have school on Tuesday. It is our hope to have phones and some other applications restored by Wednesday.

Although the investigation is ongoing, at this point we have no reason to believe any confidential or personal information has been compromised. 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 forensics investigation. We are committed to taking all appropriate actions in response to the findings of the investigation.

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

We know this has been a challenging and disruptive school year and this only adds to the adversity we’ve 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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