Hackers who broke into Allen Independent School District’s computer system sent emails to employees, parents and even students on Monday, threatening to release personal information on the internet after the district refused to pay a ransom.
“It’s terrible,” one mother said outside Allen’s freshmen center.
“Staff and parents of Allen ISD, Howdy!” the hackers’ rambling email begins. “We give you five days to collect money.”
They warned if they don't get paid within five days, their demand will go up to $10 million. The email does not specify how much they asked for originally.
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Allen ISD had previously announced it was the victim of a cyberattack but claimed the attack largely "failed" and said it has no intention of paying any money.
News of the new threats spread quickly among parents.
“That's pretty crazy,” mother Amy Lowe said. “I would never think something like that would happen here. But it did."
The district said there’s no proof the group has the private information it claims to have stolen and warned anyone receiving the emails not to respond or click on any links.
Experts said it’s unclear how much information the attackers actually may have but their emails show they are getting bolder and more aggressive.
"I like the way they made this a very Texan email with a 'howdy' to the parents of the students,” said Matthew Yarbrough, a former federal prosecutor who now operates the Dallas private cybersecurity law firm Yarbrough Blackstone Law. “But it was to apply public pressure on Allen ISD to pay the cryptocurrency ransom in this case."
Yarbrough said the intrusion is concerning but pointed out nobody knows how much of a threat it really poses.
"I think you should be worried because at this point we know they have some information but we don't know the extent of that information and again you don't want a foreign criminal to have your kids' social security number or academic information," Yarbrough said.
The school district said it's working with independent experts on what to do next and has consulted with law enforcement.
“The district has no intention of paying any money to this group,” Allen ISD Chief Communications Officer David Hicks said.