Officials in the Centennial School District in east Multnomah County have canceled school for the week due to an apparent cyberattack, which has led school officials to take the district’s computer networks down. The district announced Monday that files had been “encrypted by an unknown actor.”
Like school districts across Oregon, Centennial has been delivering much of its instruction online for months. Even with hybrid learning — a blend of online and in-person instruction — rolling out over the last few weeks, instruction has still relied very heavily on digital platforms. Now with teacher, administrator and student logins all dependent on district domains and portals, the intrusion has ground instruction and internal operations to a halt at the district of more than 6,000 students.
“Our number one priority is to get kids back learning,” Centennial chief communications officer Carol Fenstermacher told OPB.
But it’s not at all clear how quickly the district will be able to do that.
“We still don’t know what we don’t know,” Fenstermacher said. The district is still looking into what systems have been directly affected, but out of an abundance of caution, all systems — from instruction to email to the district website have been effectively disabled.
Centennial is holding an emergency school board meeting Tuesday night, which Fenstermacher said is at least in part to enter a contract with a digital forensics firm.
The district says it has also started an internal investigation and has reported the problem to federal law enforcement.
Such seizures of government information systems by outside hackers have happened before in Oregon, and they’re often accompanied by ransom demands. In 2018, Roseburg Public Schools agreed to pay to gain back control of their technology after a hack.
Fenstermacher said Centennial hadn’t received such a demand to her knowledge but “we think that may be coming.”
Infiltration of government information systems, including public schools, has been an increasing concern of the FBI.
The school district plans to resume some form of instruction on Monday. The district has asked staff to report to work Thursday and Friday to prepare packets of instructional materials for students in case technology is still unavailable.
The district said it will contact families later this week with instructions on where to pick up the packets.