Over the Labor Day weekend, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) experienced a ransomware attack. Although their initial disclosure did not name the ransomware group involved, CISA issued an alert on September 6 about Vice Society attacking the education sector. Two days later, Vice Society acknowledged responsibility for the attack on LAUSD.
LAUSD decided not to pay the ransom demand. In their update of September 30, they explain:
Los Angeles Unified remains firm that dollars must be used to fund students and education. Paying ransom never guarantees the full recovery of data, and Los Angeles Unified believes public dollars are better spent on our students rather than capitulating to a nefarious and illicit crime syndicate.
Yesterday, Vice Society leaked the data they had exfiltrated from the district. Their listing added a comment: “CISA wasted our time, we waste CISA reputation.”
DataBreaches asked Vice Society to explain their comment. Their spokesperson replied (spelling and typing as in the original):
They’ve started to talk with us, asked documents, asked more time to think about everything. I think it was not someone from LAUSD. (that’s about wasting our time)
When CISA or FBI or anyone else say to company not to pay (because we will not restore their network or we will not delete files) they are wrong. We always delete documents and help to restore, we don’t talk about companies that paid us. We care about company’s reputation more then them.
Do you know who ever paid us? Or how much? I think you don’t… But everyone knows that CISA and FBI worked with LAUSD and now LAUSD lost 500gb of files.
Better to work with us then to work with them.
Depending on the sensitivity of the data involved, could they be right? Do we really want sensitive psychiatric or psychosocial reports about children on the internet for decades to come? In a culture where some states are looking to criminally prosecute women who have abortions, do we want the records from OBGYN centers dumped publicly? The ultimate victims are not the entities that were hacked, but those whose data was stolen. In this case, LAUSD’s noble-sounding statement about not paying criminals is just that — a noble-sounding statement that is consistent with law enforcement advice that paying criminals is no guarantee and just encourages more crime.
But what price might some children and their parents pay for years to come?
Update: DataBreaches followed up on Vice Society’s response to ask whether any local government or public school district ever paid them and never disclosed it afterward. Their spokesperson responded:
Local U.S. governments like towns or cities have never paid, but it is still interesting for us. (you know… many news and our raising reputation) And yes, some school districts paid and we didn’t see any news about it later. Of coarse we don’t know what happened after deal and how they showed that money on papers, but that happens. Maybe recovery companies know what to do… We often talk with recovery companies instead of with crypted company. PS or maybe… they steal money… and willing to hide it they pay from their own pocket… maybe…
DataBreaches would be quite surprised if any school district paid out of their employees’ only pockets but there have some claims this year that school district cyberinsurance policies may actively prohibit districts from revealing ransom payments. In other cases, communications may be shielded from public access or view by claiming attorney-client privilege. DataBreaches believes that ransom payments should be subject to public records access and that should trump any attempt to hide the expenditure of public funds from the public.