RPS 205 has dramatically improved cybersecurity since 2019 ransomware attack

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) – In 2019, Rockford Public Schools became victim to a ransomware attack. Alexis Carpello spoke with the district’s technology experts who say they’ve boosted preventive measures.

Cybersecurity experts say they’re always in the reactive mode. Now, they’ve ramped up security and education for staff district-wide.

“We have invested a lot of time, resources, and budget to ensure we’re doing everything we can for cybersecurity,” said RPS 205 Chief Information Officer Jason Barthel.

Barthel says the district has stepped up its game since a 2019 attack.

“With the ransomware attack we had back in 2019 it kind of started with a phishing email that came in and it went through our network,” said Barthel. “It was predominantly aimed towards staff members.”

Staff members were locked out of their technology. Now, nearly 60 employees work in IT for the district, 11 focused on cybersecurity to help prevent those types of attacks.

“We did an organizational restructuring in IT, whereas previous to that Matt’s position didn’t even exist. He’s been at the district for 14 years, but we created an ITIS Security sub-department, just to focus on this stuff because it’s so important to keep us up and running,” said Barthel.

“We also immediately implemented multi-factor authentication within the district, which is almost universally accepted as one of the best methods at least to begin your security regimen,” added Director of ITIS Security Matt Johnson.

Johnson says cyberattacks are common.

“86% of organizations have been hit this year and 92% of the schools in the educational sector have been hit,” said Johnson.

“That’s an area, Matt’s team the cybersecurity, side that we’re looking at growing in the future because we know we need to continue to support that in order to keep ourselves ahead of the bell curve,” said Barthel.

Both technology experts say they continue to evolve with new types of security systems as more software develops.

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