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Schools, other bodies, vulnerable to cyberattack

Educators, including decision makers on university campuses, are in all likelihood closely watching events unfold in a small school district downstate this week.

That’s because the district — the Richmond Community Schools in Macomb County — was hit with a sophisticated cyberattack. It was unclear from pronouncements from the school and nearby law enforcement exactly when the attack took place.

What is clear, however, are the systems within the school that were affected: telephones, copiers, classroom technology and heating, according to The Detroit Free Press. Certainly, there may be others.

No one is saying who or what is behind the attack or what the attackers want. But the district, which has about 1,400 students, said the virus was something known as ransomware, which usually refers to a scheme that electronically hijacks a system or files until the victims pay a ransom, the Free Press reported.

The district said student and staff information appears to be safe.

Local law enforcement didn’t know — or weren’t saying — who might be behind the assault. But because the web is worldwide, it could have come from anywhere, from the other side of the globe to the other side of the village of Richmond.

It didn’t appear at this writing a demand for ransom had been received.

Whether this turns out to be an amateur hacker or professional syndicate, the attack demonstrates that public institutions, including and especially schools and other facilities, are vulnerable. Even the most up-to-date defensive software can be breached, with terrible consequences. Think medical facility, hospital, clinic or research outlet.

This is one of those occasions when the public and private sectors, each with something to lose, would do well to work together to find a solution, assuming, of course, a solution exists.

One may not.