Paterson Public Schools hacked, but when, and where are the data now? (UPDATE 1)

Jayed Rahman reports that Paterson Public Schools in New Jersey was hacked. The attacker allegedly acquired 23,103 account passwords and other computer access tokens.

Information stolen in the breach includes desktop logins, email usernames and passwords, and laptop credentials. For example, the email usernames and passwords of all school district employees — including that of the superintendent, administrators, teachers, and other staff members — were dumped, deposited into a file that runs more than 116,000 lines.

According to the Paterson Times, who learned about the breach before the district did, usernames were in plain text but passwords were encrypted, but easily crackable.

The attacker reportedly contacted the newspaper on Thursday, using a fictitious email account. When the paper ignored the email, the attacker came back on Saturday with a proffer and screenshots.

Of significant concern is the question of whether the attacker, who initially tried to sell the data to the paper for an undisclosed amount, still has access to any district server(s), as they claim they do. The individual claimed to have stolen the passwords in October 2018. Why did he/they wait so long to try to sell them, then?

Also of concern, the attacker was reportedly spooked when told that the paper was going to report on the breach, and the attacker cancelled the email account that was being use to communicate with the paper.

So are the Paterson data out there anywhere on the dark web for sale? Does the attacker still have access?

There’s a lot for the district to find out. In the meantime, hopefully they’re forcing a complete password reset for everyone and requiring unique passwords that haven’t been used by employees anywhere else.

Update: Paterson is forcing a password reset, yes, but there’s more — and it’s significant.  Preliminary investigation is suggesting that it may not be what a lot of us may have thought it was.

“The obtained information is about eight months old, and could have been obtained by an employee who worked for the district at that time,” said [Superintendent Eileen] Shafer. She did not identify the name of the former employee.

However, the district’s chief attorney, Robert E. Murray, in a letter to the Paterson Times, asserts there were multiple actors. His letter says, “the person or persons who accessed our system and took certain data may not be working alone.”

Shafer said there is “no reason” to believe the security of the district’s email server was breached, but that “someone clearly hoped to create the impression that it was.” She said the matter is being referred to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office for investigation.

About the author: Dissent

Comments are closed.