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Ransomware and School Districts

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February 1, 2017

Ransomware is infecting institutions throughout the country, including many here in Oklahoma. School districts are being hit. Lest you think it won’t affect your small or rural school, think again. Ransomware does not discriminate by size or geographic location. Because the data possessed by schools is so sensitive and so critical to operations, it has become a particularly profitable target for the hackers. From a legal standpoint, as well as a practical standpoint, the loss of your data as a school district could cause any number of headaches.

In the event your data is held for ransom, and before you take action (or choose not to take action), our IT Director, Ben Parker, strongly suggests you have a reputable and knowledgeable IT professional evaluate your situation. There may be a decryption key available, depending upon which strain of ransomware is in your system. Or, in some cases, it may actually be better financially and/or practically for you to go the route of paying the tab. The important thing is to not act hastily or without considerable information regarding your options.

If you haven’t been hacked, have you taken proactive steps to ensure your school’s data doesn’t get kidnapped? If not, please take the time to look into your systems and protections. If need be, consult with a professional IT firm experienced in ransomware prevention. A good starting point for information and other resources might be the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, which has released a helpful public service announcement. The link may be found here: FBI Ransomware PSA.

About the Author

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Terri Thomas

Director of Legal Services

Terri Thomas serves as Director of Legal Services for OPSRC.  Ms. Thomas is an attorney practicing exclusively in the area of Oklahoma school law, with a primary focus on rural and smaller school districts. Prior to OPSRC, she served as legal counsel for the Organization of Rural Oklahoma Schools (OROS) from 1999 to 2015 and represents many school districts throughout all parts of the state.

It’s no accident that Terri wound up practicing school law.  She grew up in the school business. Terri’s father, the late Howard Thomas, was a school superintendent for 25 years in several Oklahoma school districts, including Pauls Valley—Terri’s hometown—and Ardmore. After graduating from Pauls Valley High School, Terri received her bachelor’s degree in Finance from Southern Methodist University and her Juris Doctor from the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

She and her husband, Norman Thompson, and their 8-year old daughter, Mary, reside in Oklahoma City.

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