Illinois District Survives Ransomware Attack with Support of SIS Provider

Urbana School District 116
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Case Studies > Illinois District Survives Ransomware Attack with Support of SIS Provider

Skyward and ISCorp deliver disaster recovery assistance

Recent years have brought on an onslaught of challenges for school districts. In addition to challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, K-12 education has also become the most targeted segment for ransomware attacks. Due to the increase of eLearning, lack of training, and limited funding for security, these cybercriminals show no signs of slowing down.

While ransomware attacks are unpredictable, districts need to have a data hosting plan in place in the event of an incident.

For Urbana School District 116 in Urbana, IL, about an hour southeast of Bloomington, a 2017 ransomware attack could have potentially left the district with a financial crisis and years of work to recreate. Fortunately, the district’s SIS and back-up data hosting plan stepped in to save the day.


"Skyward was able to step in and contact ISCorp. Since that was the only way that we would be able to get our data back, they were a life saver."


The attack

Urbana School District 116 has been using Skyward since 2007. Prior to the ransomware attack, the district’s data was backing up two to three times per week with Skyward’s preferred data hosting partner, ISCorp.

“When we first came to Skyward, I don’t think that we ever thought of any other ways of hosting our data other than through ISCorp,” said Carol Baker, chief financial officer at the district. “We figured that since Skyward offers hosting through ISCorp, why wouldn’t we do it?”

While USD116 didn’t have to put much thought into their data storage for a while, in 2017, the district received an email stating that all of their files were encrypted due to a security problem on a district computer. The ransomware attackers requested the district to pay a hefty sum through Bitcoin to gain access to their data.


"It’s really scary that this even happened and how bad it could have been. Now we know how to prepare if this, or something else, happens again."


Intervention at work

When USD116 received the ransomware email, the district reached out to Skyward for assistance. Although ISCorp hosted the data, USD116 needed guidance to have the data re-uploaded into their Skyward account.

“Skyward was able to step in and contact ISCorp,” said Baker. “Since that was the only way that we would be able to get our data back, they were a life saver.”

With Skyward’s help, USD116 avoided having to recreate months or years of missing data.

“Luckily we only had to recreate a couple of days' worth of work, which saved us loads of time and headaches,” said Baker. “We were up and running like normal soon after.”

Now, USD116’s data is updated in real time with ISCorp, providing 24/7 support and backups.

“We haven’t needed to access our ISCorp data since the ransomware attack, but having that peace of mind knowing that if this ever happens again that we won’t skip a beat is great,” said Baker. “We are able to keep on running our day-to-day operations without worry, and we have no doubt that our files are safe.”

After the attack, the district realized the importance of having a plan in place for future disasters.

“It’s really scary that this even happened and how bad it could have been,” said Baker. “Now we know how to prepare if this, or something else, happens again.”


"Skyward continues to expand their database, which allows us to put more and more data in there as situations arise."


Planning protection for the future

Being faced with this ransomware attack opened USD116’s eyes to the potential of other disasters that the district may face and have to respond to, such as a weather-related event.

"Even though we have our student and finance data backed up, there is a lot of other stuff that we do at our district we don’t want to lose in the event of any disaster,” said Baker. “We know that it is possible to lose those files, but we currently don’t have a plan in place for an event such as a flood. That is a big goal for us in the future.”

To start preparing for the future, USD116 is currently working on a disaster recovery plan as part of their strategic plan. Specifically in Skyward, the district is looking forward to adding as much information as possible into their database, which they know is protected well. This is especially important since the district uses Skyward for both their SIS and ERP software.

“Skyward continues to expand their database, which allows us to put more and more data in there as situations arise,” said Baker. “It seems that as districts are tasked with more and more responsibilities, Skyward makes their database even more valuable.”

Conclusion

For other districts, Baker highly recommends shifting their data from on-site hosting to off-site hosting, if they haven’t already done so.

“Sometimes things like that don’t get done until you have an emergency to respond to, but don’t wait for that to happen,” said Baker. “As hard as it is, be sure to make the time to have a plan in place for the future. I know that we wish we would have done it sooner!”

Disasters by definition are unpredictable, but that doesn’t mean that districts can’t prepare for what may happen in the future. Host your data today so you don’t lose it tomorrow.






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