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NSW Department of Education cyber attack leaves teachers stranded

Teachers are unable to access key classroom materials or email systems just one week before remote learning is set to begin

Australia’s New South Wales Department of Education has been forced to take some of its systems offline following a cyber attack yesterday afternoon, leaving teachers without access to core materials ahead of schoolchildren reverting to remote learning next week.

NSW Education Secretary Georgina Harrisson said the Department’s priority is the safety and security of its student and staff data, and has made the “precautionary decision to take some systems offline while it investigates further”.

"The timing of this creates considerable challenges for staff as we prepare for the start of Term 3,” Harrisson said.

The Department of Education is working with Cyber Security NSW on the issue, and the matter has been referred to the NSW Police and federal agencies too. The precise nature of the cyber attack is unclear at this time, although teachers are said to be unable to access emails, video conferencing software, and lesson materials.

Schools were told yesterday that they would be teaching remotely from next Tuesday, 13 July, for the first four days of Term 3. This comes as the state is trying to deal with a coronavirus outbreak as it has extended lockdown for an extra week until Friday 16 July.

“I am confident we will have the issue resolved soon and want to reassure teachers and parents that there will be no impact on students learning from home next week,” Harrisson said.

"Whilst we are confident all systems will be back online before Day 1, Term 3, we are making information to support home learning available on our public website so that preparations for the start of term can continue."

NSW Teachers’ Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said the attack had caused a “state of paralysis”, especially as educators are getting ready for remote learning when schools begin next week.

“Every teacher and principal out there can’t get access to anything – email, calendars, zoom, learning materials, the lot,” he said to The Sydney Morning Herald.

“They [have] to turn themselves inside out to plan for next week, and they can’t even see what the guidelines are. This is causing considerable stress.”

In June the NSW Ministry of Health admitted it was affected by the global Accellion attack from earlier in the year and was notifying patients whose data may have been accessed as a result. It warned “identity information” and “health-related personal information” were both accessed in the attack and a cyber incident helpline was set up to provide information and support to those affected.

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