Commack school officials said the attack knocked out district telephone...

Commack school officials said the attack knocked out district telephone numbers and they have provided alternate numbers on the district website.  Credit: Newsday/Danielle Finkelstein

Commack school officials say they are making progress in addressing the cyberattack Tuesday that crippled the district’s computer system, though they declined to share details on those advances.

Superintendent Jordan Cox offered a brief update on the attack during Thursday’s school board meeting, stating that a ransomware attack created a "network outage." A ransomware attack is one in which an outside party attacks and locks up a computer system and then demands money to restore operations.

“There’s definitely progress being made,” Cox said in response to a request for an update from a parent in the audience. “We are working diligently around the clock.”

District officials offered few details regarding the attack, saying that they cannot because it is under investigation. Cox said officials will put out a list of frequently asked questions and answers regarding the attack, so students and staff “will know what devices they have access to.”

Cox told the school board there's been no indication that the cybercriminals accessed student or staff information. He said the district has notified local and state authorities as well as Homeland Security. Suffolk County police said Friday they have been notified and are assisting the district.

In a statement to Commack families that was forwarded by the district to Newsday late Friday, Cox said, "You can be assured that our teachers are inventive and imaginative, and our students will continue to thrive despite the temporary outage. Extracurricular activities such as athletics and clubs are running as usual."

The statement also said internal communications within buildings and classrooms are operational, "so teachers can easily communicate with administrators, each other, and our security team."

Matthew Pomara, co-founder of Ark Technology Cos. of Garden City, said schools have become a popular target of cybercriminals because many do not have enough protections to stop an attack.

He said it is not uncommon these days for cybercriminals to ignore student and staff personal information during such an attack. The information has become less valuable due to banks and other institutions improving their technology and security, he said.

Commack has said the attack knocked out district telephone numbers, and officials have provided alternate numbers on the district website. 

Commack school officials have not stated the amount sought in the ransomware attack.

Pomara, who has worked with numerous Island districts on cybersecurity, said that when such an attack happens, teachers may not be able to access lessons, so they need to make more use of blackboards and paper lessons. Computer science classes can be hampered, as well as cafeteria cash registers, automatic locking systems for doors, and camera systems, he said.

A massive Sept. 8 ransomware attack devastated Suffolk County's systems and services, affecting police communications and delaying more than $140 million in county payments. The attack forced the county to resort to paper records and in-person payments. Suffolk has been returning services on a rolling basis.

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