The Houston County Schools system, which is still recovering from a criminal malware attack that downed its servers in July and delayed the start of classes, is weighing a two-phase proposal aimed at stopping future hackers.
Although officials say the cyber-attack did not include a ransom, Superintendent David Sewell said earlier the hack caused an incredible amount of losses – both in resources and overtime hours.
In response to the attack, the school board discussed quotes Monday night for a post-breach response system as part of a cyber-security program custom developed specifically for the school district from a Birmingham forensic digital cyber security firm.
“We’re losing the cyber war and southern schools are a target because they know our systems aren’t up-to-date,” Brent Panell, CEO and co-founder for ControlAltProtect, said. “It is the current state of culture. Schools are a major target.”
He said that 98 percent of businesses have antivirus software, which is no longer enough to ward off cyber security attacks. He also said that email phishing is the first point of attack for 98 percent of all attacks.
“We are on a mission to change what’s happening in Alabama, because frankly, our cyber security sucks,” Panell said.
The quote for the 24-month contract comes to $10,800 per month for phase I and $2,000 per month for phase II. Both must be implemented concurrently for duration of the contract to effectively implement the service, Panell said.
Panell said the list of services is extensive, but includes a 24/7 threat monitoring service, weekday alert monitoring and consulting. The one thing not included, however, is a guarantee.
“There is never a guarantee because we can’t guarantee human behavior,” he said.
If approved, Houston County Schools would be the first school district to implement the services, as the company typically caters to legal, medical, insurance, accounting and other private sector firms. The company’s intention with the relatively low-cost introductory offer to the schools is to get its foot in the door to cater to schools statewide, and get the attention of the Alabama State Department of Education.
“I’m excited to be a guinea pig for this. It sounds pretty cool,” Board Member Chris Lasseter said.
Board Chairman Vince Wade said the board will have to find funding for the service.
“It’s been a trying two months for what we’ve experienced,” he said. “We’re going to do what’s best for the system…”
Central office administrators were made aware of the attack on July 25 and consequentially delayed the school’s start date from Aug. 1 to Aug. 12. The county superintendent cited the delay to lost employee time and issues getting the school’s information system iNow back online.
Since the server breach, Technology Director Bob Blalock said that, if all goes well, all computers well be re-imaged and operational by the end of the week. Teams are also working on bringing back up technology in the lunchrooms.
Blalock added that teachers should be getting new laptops as early as next week.
Prior to the hack, board members discussed an approximate $350,000 line item to purchase new laptops for every district teacher, but the state department of education approved the funds early so the technology department would not have to spend manpower on rebooting and re-downloading software on an additional 450 laptops.
The technology department is also working on getting projectors and other technology classroom working.
The board approved a contract with personnel resources for temporary IT help while technology department officials continue to work on getting necessary software on all computers.
In other board action:
>> Approved a one-year lawn care bid for the Houston County Career Academy and Wicksburg High School, which comprises over 80 acres, to AGS Lawn Care, Inc. in the amount of $43,500. Lawns at all facilities will be cut three times monthly, as opposed to twice monthly as it has been in the past, during growing seasons and once monthly during winter.
>> Approved a 12-month contract bid for lawn care at Ashford Elementary, Ashford High School, Cottonwood High School, Cottonwood baseball complex, Houston County High School, Rehobeth Elementary/Middle School campus, Rehobeth High School and Wicksburg Elementary School to McGriff Lawn Care, Inc. in the amount of $92,272.
>>Released bid to buy 30 AED units to equip estimated to cost around $40,000 to replace outdated units and equip athletic facilities with units.
>>Approved Odysseyware, software used for the system’s Hope school, summer school and credit recovery, renewal in the amount of $34,560.
>>Approved the purchase of a John Deere 2306 tractor from Charles Jones for the Rehobeth High School FFA, in the amount of $11,000 from funds that were donated anonymously to the RHS FFA.
>> Approved a contract with applied performance research in the amount of $18,675 to perform evaluations on principal and teachers at all schools.