Henry slowly returning full internet to some schools post cyber attack

Henry County Schools inching toward full restoration of the internet two months after cyber attack. Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Henry County Schools inching toward full restoration of the internet two months after cyber attack. Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Henry County Schools says it has begun rolling out full internet to select school buildings, two months after a cyber attack forced the district to suspend all online connections to protect itself.

The school system with about 43,000 students said it is restoring web access to some buildings as a test to see if the district can operate the internet securely, though leaders did not specify which schools were returning online.

If the tests are successful, the internet will be brought back to other buildings, officials said.

“At eight of our sites, both school and district locations, we have begun the piloting of full access to the open internet,” Superintendent Mary Elizabeth Davis told the Henry County Board of Education on Monday. “That is a great sign and something I want to celebrate.”

Henry students started the second semester Monday with limited or no access to the internet for the second month in a row.

The district announced on Nov. 9 that it was restricting the ability to go online after noting “suspicious activity” on its network.

By Nov. 26, the school system was completely offline as leaders said the district had been attacked by cyber criminals and revealed the breach was extensive. The district has not said whether the attackers have demanded ransom.

Throughout the period, Henry has gone old school to continue operating, with students taking tests with pen and paper, teachers digging out overhead projectors for lessons, and bus drivers on unfamiliar routes getting turn-by-turn directions from officials instead of using GPS.

To enroll new students, the district employed mobile hotspots to connect them to schools, though Davis said the devices can be slow.

The district restored limited internet access to schools for critical state testing by the end of the first semester and teachers were able to record student grades digitally. Because of that, Davis said report cards will be posted on time today.

Password resets, which were necessitated across the system because of the breach, will be completed soon, Davis said.

“We have completed a grades 3-through-5 password reset,” Davis said. “We had originally scheduled that before the break, (but) it did not actually begin until this week. That is in motion.”