GFPS network outage ongoing, instruction continuing

The Great Falls Public Schools district is continuing to suffer from a network outage that began Monday evening.

The outage has crashed district email, hindered internal communications and forced teachers to work from home on their personal networks so that remote learning could continue.

On Sept. 9, district officials said they didn’t know the cause of the cause of the “fairly significant network outage,” according to Superintendent Tom Moore.

Moore said he was notified around 8:30 p.m. Monday that email wasn’t working properly and the district’s IT department worked through the night to investigate the issue.

Moore said their working with specialists and experts both internally and remotely to find the cause, extent of the outage and how to repair the network.

For now instruction is continuing, though teachers and staff are having to find some work arounds for technology components that aren’t working.

Moore said that if the outage continues much longer, the district may have to return to paper packets for the roughly 1,500 students who are participating in remote learning this year.

Tom Hering, the district IT director, said that most Cloud-based systems are still working, which is a lot of the remote learning systems, but the communication between teachers and students which has traditionally been email has been hindered by the outage.

Moore said they’re encouraging parents and students to communicate with teachers by phone and text for now while they’re working to repair the network outage.

Moore said they didn’t know yet if the outage was the result of a ransomware attack or other cyber attack, which have been plaguing school district nationwide since last week, according to national press coverage.

The New York Times has reported that a ransomware attack hit the Hartford school district targeting 200 of the city’s servers. The attack forced the district to postpone the first day of school, according to The New York Times report.

The Times has also reported that Miami-Dade County school district was the victim of a cyberattack in which a 16-year-old student was arrested.

The Clark County School District in Nevada was the victim of a ransomware attack during the first week of school in late August, according to a report from the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Moore said they’re aware of the attacks in other areas of the country and are “trying to determine the extent to which out systems have failed and why.”

Moore said at this point, they didn’t have evidence to believe that student data had been breached, but were still investigating.

Hering said that “this is a very unique situation” and in his 40 years in IT, he’s never really seen anything like it.

He said he knows it’s frustrating for students, parents, faculty and staff but that his department is working to get the issue resolved as quickly as possible.

In 2018, the district was the victim of a phishing scam in which suspicious emails were signed by GFPS staff.

According to the The K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center there have been 966 cyber incidents against schools since January 2016.

According to the Center, there were 348 publicly-disclosed school cybersecurity incidents in calendar year 2019. That’s nearly three times as many as were publicly-disclosed in 2019.

Of those incidents, 28 percent were ransomware and malware incidents, according to the Center.