North Florida school district held hostage by hackers

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - A North Florida School district is being held hostage by hackers.

A North Florida School district is being held hostage by hackers. (Pexels)

Wakulla County Schools discovered a ransomware attack last Thursday and the district and its insurer are still trying to decide if they should pay to regain the use of some critical software programs.

Wakulla Superintendent Robert Pearce said contact with the hackers was made over the weekend.

"They let us know we were being held ransom, and they assigned a bitcoin amount they wanted, and at this time, I’m not allowed to disclose that because this is still under investigation and we are still in negotiation,” said Pearce.

No student data was taken, but the attack on the 5,000-student district has shut down software used by students to pay for lunches, details on school bus ridership, email, and a library software program.

”We can’t get into those files right now. The good news is we can still operate,” said Pearce.

Investigators and the IT department are still sorting out the depth of the damage. Until that’s known, the option of paying the hackers is still on the table.

“They will be 99 and 44/100 percent certain that these folks are legit, have a key, and that’s its worth purchasing before our insurance company would do that,” said Pearce.

Kim Fitzgerald has two nephews in high school.

“That concerns me, having to pay, you know, but it's just something that happens nowadays,” said Fitzgerald. "I mean, they are able to get into all of our information and do that, so, I guess we’re all kinda held ransom, don’t you think?”

This the third known attack on a rural school district in the state.

At least two cities have paid a ransom in recent months including Lake City, which paid a half-million dollars to get control of its computers.

In addition to the critical software the ransomware has disabled, about 50 classroom computers have been rendered useless and will likely have to be wiped clean.