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MOUNT ZION — Foreign hackers targeted the Mount Zion schools computer system in an attack that resulted in 19 days' worth of grades being wiped out across the district. 

Data was not removed from the system, but the hackers encrypted several servers, making them unusable, Superintendent Travis Roundcount said in an emailed response to questions from the Herald & Review about the incident, which was noted on the district's website as happening Feb. 4.

"Fortunately, we have been able to recover most of the data through backups and hard copies," Roundcount said.

The hackers used a sophisticated computer program to institute a brute force attack against the school's network, attempting to gain access, Roundcount said. The attack has no connection with anyone local, he added.

Although the hackers were able to gain access to the system, they were unable to actually see the data due to the school's software, he said.

"The district has taken precautions to test vulnerability and prevent future breaches," Roundcount said.

The district has worked with vendors to rebuild the affected servers and to restore lost data, he said.

A statement from the district's administration was sent to parents, updating them of the status of the network and the effect the attack had on the district's information.

"Unfortunately, our efforts to retrieve some information after the security breach have been unsuccessful. While we have verified with cyber experts that it has not been compromised, some data remains unavailable to us," the statement said.

The statement also said school lunch balances were recovered, and teachers would maintain paper records until they could be updated. Additionally, grades for 19 days of the third quarter were lost, so all students will receive a 100 percent A+ for those days, the district said. 

"The district has taken several additional precautions in an attempt to ensure this does not happen again. We will continue to update you as we move forward in this process and thank you for your patience," the statement said.

This computer system attack comes after Gage C. Hart, an 18-year-old student, was accused by police of using a smartphone app three times in November to disable the district's computer network. He has pleaded not guilty to three counts of computer tampering/insert program charges, which are Class 4 felonies. He has a March 6 hearing scheduled in his case.

Contact Kennedy Nolen at (217) 421-6985. 

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