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Syracuse school district, Onondaga County libraries, recovering from cyberattack

Tom Magnarelli
Onondaga County's Central Library in downtown Syracuse.

The Syracuse City School District and the Onondaga County Public Libraries have both come under recent cyberattacks. Cities and small communities can be soft targets for hackers.

The school district and county libraries were attacked by the same ransomware, called Ryuk, according to county officials, though they say that might just be an unfortunate coincidence.

The school district attack rendered computer files and systems inoperable, freezing the district out of access. They’re still working to restore some systems. Meanwhile, the county libraries’ online and phone services were also knocked out. Library programs and checking out books are continuing the old-fashioned way.

Sometimes, hackers will demand a ransom for data recovery, although the county has not received a ransom demand yet and no personal information was stolen. The FBI was contacted and a forensic investigation is ongoing. 

Syracuse University School of Information Studies Professor Lee McKnight said cities, schools and small businesses can be vulnerable if they have limited Information Technology staff with older systems.

“Everybody needs to do more to improve their security and privacy practices and have more information security training,” McKnight said.

Cities, schools and small businesses have been slow to adopt cloud services, McKnight said, and should be proactively backing up their data to cloud computing data centers.

“Then even if there is a ransomware attack, it's not as devastating," McKnight said. "After you're already hit, it's too late. We need to be proactively planning for prevention and mitigation. That defeats ransomware in many ways over time."

It can take months, even a year for cities to recover stolen or blocked data.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.