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Neenah schools return to in-person classes following cyber security issue

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Posted at 6:03 PM, Jan 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-12 16:04:32-05

NEENAH (NBC 26) — UPDATE: All Neenah Joint School District schools will return to in person classes on Thursday, Jan. 13. Schools were closed on Tuesday and Wednesday due to a technology incident that took place early Monday morning.

The District considered three factors that all needed to be in place to return to school: A working phone system, a working wireless system and staff access to their digital files. Those systems have been restored, making schools functional for teaching and learning on Thursday.

Friday, Jan. 14 will remain a half day for students in grades K-12 and a day off for 4K students. There will be no school at all levels on Monday, Jan. 17 in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

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For the second day in a row, schools within the Neenah Joint School District will remain closed Wednesday due to a cyber security situation affecting the district.

Neenah schools closed Tuesday as the investigation into the IT security incident continues. Mary Pfeiffer, Neenah Joint School District superintendent, said a potential unauthorized access to the school data system caused an outage to the district's internet, phone systems and several software applications.

At this time, Pfeiffer said they don't believe confidential or personal information has been compromised.
Teachers spent Tuesday creating non-digital lesson plans, a challenge when a lot of that information is on the district's server.

"In March of 2020, we shifted our staff to all virtual - at least for a short period of time - and now we’re telling them, ‘no more technology," Pfeiffer said. "It's been an incredible year. Another incredible year. And now to have to pivot one more time for something that we didn't have control of, that can be pretty frustrating."

Michael Patton, director of the Cybersecurity Center of Excellence at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, doesn't have direct knowledge of this investigation, but said a concern in this type of situation would be that data is taken. He said access to an organization's server can happen with just one click on a faulty link or video.

“Whatever you open has as much access to your work computer as you do. They get to do things essentially as you," Patton said. "Your organization may have permissions in their network that allow for you to share things across computers. So the bad actors would leverage that sharing capability, and move throughout your network and infect lots of other things."

That's why Patton said it's best to separate work and personal.

"Maybe we want to check our Facebook or do some online shopping. Just recognize that if you're doing that from your work machine, that could allow whatever mistakes you make into your work space," Patton said.

He added people should always be vigilant and skeptical about things they open online.

The Neenah Joint School District is working to restore phone and internet access for students and staff. The district hopes to resume classes on Thursday.