Education

Cyber-attack threat is costly for Modesto schools. The total estimate may surprise you.

Sylvan Union School District sign in front of their offices on Sylvan Ave.
Sylvan Union School District sign in front of their offices on Sylvan Ave. Modesto Bee

The costs of combating a recent cyber attack and securing computer services against further attacks will easily exceed $1 million for Sylvan Union School District.

According to a budget study in April, the Modesto school district amassed $475,700 in costs in eradicating two cyber-attack viruses that took down essential services in the district with 10 elementary schools and three middle schools. Staff and teachers lost connection to cloud-based data, networks and educational platforms that use the school district’s Internet connection.

The malware attack of unknown origin was first detected in late February. The $475,700 in expenses for stopping the viruses and restoring systems included software purchases, equipment and contractor services, some of which prevented further damage to the school district’s networks.

Datapath of Modesto was hired for consulting services through an emergency school board action March 12. Tuesday, the board will consider approving a contract with Datapath for continued network management services through June 30.

The contract extension, not to exceed $48,000, will give the school district time to seek competitive bids for consulting services and technology upgrades in the 2019-20 budget year, which begins July 1.

Sylvan Superintendent Debra Hendricks and other district staff were attending a conference Friday and were not available to discuss the continued expenses for network security services.

The security breach prompted the school board last month to recommend almost $530,000 in technology upgrades in next year’s budget. In justifying the expenditures, a budget study said, “It is critical that the district contract with an outside vendor to monitor our system and support our current technology staff for cyber security measures.”

The study said Sylvan staff had spoken with school districts in the area and “this is the direction they have taken due to school districts being extremely vulnerable to cyber attacks.”

Yvonne Perez, assistant superintendent of business services, discussed the continued contract with Datapath in a report for Tuesday’s meeting. The $18,000 in monthly fees owed to the firm was to be trimmed by $1,000 starting last week once a new backup system was operational.

The monthly fees will drop an additional $2,000 when a virtualization server, software and hardware are completely installed.

According to the budget study last month, the $530,000 for additional technology upgrades next year are an estimate. The actual costs won’t be known until bids are accepted and reviewed.

The estimated costs include $15,000 a month, or a total of $180,000, for ongoing monitoring and back-end support; almost $100,000 for subscriptions; and $230,000 for what’s known as virtualization equipment and services. The monthly cost for monitoring and back-end support is expected to decrease once the network systems are upgraded.

The Sylvan Union School District board meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday, at 605 Sylvan Ave. in Modesto.

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