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Hackers target Ventura County’s Office of Education web system

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The websites of numerous school districts in Ventura County went offline Wednesday morning after hackers targeted certain systems operated by the Ventura County Office of Education.

“Our tech team is working on this now,” David Schermer, communication manager for the office, said Wednesday morning of the cyber attack.

The websites for the office as well as Conejo Unified, Ventura Unified, Moorpark Unified, Mupu, Santa Clara Elementary and Briggs Elementary school districts were temporarily taken down. All of the websites, seven total, were back online by about 3 p.m.

Those who visited the websites found a message that the pages were down for maintenance.

Schermer learned early Wednesday that his agency’s webpage had been hacked. The hack involved sending users to a group’s webpage where pro-ISIS views were posted, he said. Ventura Unified’s also had the same problem.

The other five were not affected, but education officials decided to take the websites offline until the problem could be analyzed rather than have users sent to the group’s webpage, Schermer said.

The Ventura County Office of Education was one of numerous government agencies across the nation that the hacking group targeted over the past few days.

Schermer stressed that the hackers who attacked his department’s website are not the same ones who launched a new malware virus from Ukraine this week, infecting computers around the globe.

“This is a different group,” he said, noting that the timing of the two cyber attacks “is a coincidence.”

The Ventura County Office of Education used outside consultants to learn more about how the agency’s website was hacked, Schermer said. The work included looking for any website weaknesses that would allow hackers entry.

“This is a little bit like whack-a-mole where the bad guys are always looking for a way to get in,” Schermer said.

The Ventura Unified School District’s website, which is hosted by the Ventura County Office of Education, was also affected by the cyber attack, he said. So anyone who went to the school district’s website was also sent to the hackers’ webpage.

Rather than take a chance that this would happen with other school district websites hosted by the office, officials decided to temporarily take them offline for much of Wednesday while the problem was studied.

No Ventura County government agencies were affected by the cyber attack on Tuesday, said Mike Pettit, the county’s chief information officer.

“We’ve been pretty fortunate so far,” Pettit said, noting that Ventura County government agencies have been able to stay off hackers’ radars.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, however, was not so fortunate. Its website was hacked on Tuesday, apparently by the same group that targeted the Ventura County Office of Education.

“Obviously, L.A. County is a much bigger target than we are,” Pettit said. “That works to our benefit here in Ventura County.”

The group behind the Ventura County hacking also is suspected of targeting the website of Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Sunday as well as a government website for Howard County in Maryland.

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