Our education correspondent, GENE BRODIE, on the lingering difficulties facing teachers and parents
Some pupils returned to their schools this week after the Easter holidays with their teachers still unable to access IT systems or use their usual telephone networks.
As Inside Croydon reported last month, the Harris Federation, one of the country’s biggest academy chains, and which has its head office on Wellesley Road in Croydon, confirmed that their IT systems were subject to “a particularly vicious ransomware attack”.
At least nine Croydon schools, including four large secondaries, were affected by the cyberattack, forcing them to shut down IT systems, email servers and even switch off their landline phone networks.
In the past week, Harris has put out a message to staff and parents that says “there is still some work to do” to have everything back up and running, and warning that “there will be bumps along the road”.
Harris academies began the important summer term, with public exams looming, with the schools’ telephone networks still not working, according to the message.
The Federation’s statement reads, “The attack, which was carried out by an organised crime gang, was highly sophisticated and has created a great deal of disruption. Keeping all of our academies open in the days between the attack and the start of the Easter holidays was only possible because of our staff, who pulled out all the stops to enable this to happen. We are very grateful to them for this.
“A police investigation into the attack is being led by the National Crime Agency. whilst our main focus has been on restoring our IT systems. Since becoming aware of the attack, Harris Federation staff and our specialist IT and cyber-technology consultants have been working round the clock to successfully restore our data and get our key services back up and running before the end of the holidays.
“A number of new systems have been put in place and these will take time to be tested and embedded, from Monday. The vast majority of this will impact staff more than our pupils but there will, undoubtedly, be bumps along the road for everyone. We will need pupils and parents to please bear with us as we get back to normal.”
“As we prepare to get our telephone systems back up and running, our switchboards will still be diverted to mobile telephones. For the time being, please avoid telephoning unless you need to report an absence or in the event of an emergency. We expect to turn on our usual telephone systems very shortly, so this won’t be for long.
“Emails are working again and throughout Monday staff will be working through accessing and responding to these, please bear with us for a couple of days. If you do not receive a response to any communication by Wednesday, do please contact us again.
“Over the first week of term staff will be testing out our IT systems, some of which are new. We have, for security reasons, asked academies to remove key links to other platforms from their websites. You will still be able to safely access the key sites that you need, but you will need to visit these sites directly.”
The hack attack has even changed the way pupils will access files on widely-used software, such as SharePoint and Microsoft Office 365.
“We will roll out new access procedures from next week, prioritising exam groups first,” Harris said.
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