Computer virus has ripple effect on Wood County Schools | News, Sports, Jobs

Wood County Board of Education member Justin Raber, left, listens to Superintendent Will Hosaflook, right, Tuesday during an update on efforts to combat a computer virus which hit Wood County Schools in mid-November. Hosaflook said officials hope to have everything returned to normal working order by early 2020, but added the virus is forcing many changes in the district’s system and how security is handled. (Photo by Michael Erb)

PARKERSBURG — Wood County Schools hopes to have a malware virus completely eliminated by the start of 2020, but its effects likely will be felt for many months, if not years, to come.

School Superintendent Will Hosaflook said specialists continue to look at hard drives and storage media throughout the school system for traces of the malware program which forced the district to go offline last month. The comments were made Tuesday during an update for the Wood County Board of Education.

“It’s probably going to be a month or so, maybe a little bit longer, until everything is up and running the way it was before,” Hosaflook said. “It’s a long process. We want to make sure we do it right.”

Malware hides itself within a computer’s code and can be programmed to activate at a specific date and time. The program corrupts files, making it impossible to retrieve data. The virus which struck Wood County Schools also interfered with electronic door controls, phone systems and wifi, all of which had to be taken offline in mid-November.

Hosaflook said Tuesday basic computer systems, internet and phones are back online at all of the district’s schools to varying degrees, but some areas are considered low-priority and will be handled after the majority of other work is completed.

“At this point, we are just looking at rebuilding the entire system,” he said.

But Hosaflook added the incident will have major ripple effects throughout the district and other school systems are looking to see how Wood County handles those issues.

Among the unanticipated consequences:

* The district must update all of its passwords to make them more secure and difficult to break. National agencies have suggested those passwords be a minimum of 14-characters long, and no machine should be allowed to save and auto-fill those passwords.

“They believe the number one way to prevent this in the future is stronger passwords,” he said. “All of the schools are going to start struggling with passwords.”

* Administrative access to computers has to be significantly limited. That access is needed to install any new programs, so while it might not seem like a major change, it means any update to computers must be done by the district’s technology department. If a teacher needs to install a new printer in their classroom, it will have to be a request form sent to the district’s information technology department, Hosaflook said.

“That will put stress on our staff,” including the technicians who service more than 30 facilities and more than 1,000 teachers and administrators, he said.

* Upgrading the district’s anti-virus software could come at a major cost, as many programs are offered as subscription services or a cost for each computer.

“For example, there is a program right now that is free that we’re using as part of a trial period,” Hosaflook said. “It’s $30 per endpoint, so when you times that by how many machines we have, thats a pretty good sum of money.”

Contact Michael Erb at merb@newsandsentinel.com.

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