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‘We have no intention of paying ransom,’ Haverhill mayor declares after computer network attack that closed city schools

The Haverhill Public School will partially reopen for in-person learning Friday, a day after the district closed due to a ransomware attack that hobbled the department’s computer network, and Mayor James J. Fiorentini said his city will focus on fixing the problem, not paying ransom in any form.

“We have no intention of paying any ransom,’' he said in a telephone interview Thursday with the Globe. “The people who do such things - I hope they get caught and thrown in jail for years.”

The ransom remains unknown. The demand is apparently detailed in a posting on the dark web, but the mayor said the Department of Homeland Security recommended school IT professionals do not search the dark web as a safety precaution.


Fiorentini credited the school department’s IT staffers for recognizing the malware attack in its early stages on Wednesday and for taking the steps to prevent it from infecting the entire network.

Later Thursday, Haverhill schools announced on its Facebook page that in-person learning would resume Friday for students in grades pre-k to 4. Students in grades 5 to 12 will remain remote, the district said.

The city severed its one small connection to the school network and municipal operations are not impacted, he said. But, based on malware attacks on giant software companies and the Pentagon in recent years, Fiorentini said it’s only a matter of time before a malware attack is launched against his city.

He said he told staffers to “come up with a 1950s system where we have backup copies of all of our files on paper, where we have copper lines for phones... and we can survive for a few weeks without any computers whatsoever.”

Haverhill Schools Superintendent Margaret Marotta alerted parents and students that the ransomware attack forced the shutdown of the computer network and the cancellation of all classes in the system Thursday.


The system is transitioning from a mix of remote and hybrid classes toward full-day, in-school classes this week. On Thursday, elementary students from second through fourth grade were due to return to the system’s eight elementary schools, according to the district’s social media postings. Younger students had started earlier this week.

“We know this is heartbreaking for many students who were looking forward to a return to something near normal,’' Marotta wrote. “While we are hopeful that school will resume on Friday, we are currently unable to confirm that school will be in session. We will keep you posted.”

Marotta wrote that the system’s computer network was attacked Thursday and that IT staffers for the school system recognized it, and moved quickly to launch a counterattack.

“The school system is fortunate in that our IT department recognized very early [Thursday] morning that something was awry with the system,” she wrote. “While it was initially unclear what was going on, the team initiated safety protocols and shut down the network before large scale corruption of the system occurred.”

The computer network is used for remote learning, including platforms Schoolbrains and Google Meet and the schools’ phone system.

John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him @JREbosglobe.