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Baltimore County executive says school officials are refusing to provide information about ransomware attack

Baltimore County school officials have refused to share information with local police, the county attorney and state information technology experts about the catastrophic cyberattack that hit its systems last month, County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said Friday.

In a highly critical letter sent to schools Superintendent Darryl Williams, the Democratic county executive called it “troubling” that school officials are not cooperating with county police, who want access to third-party consultants retained by the county school system to analyze the ransomware attack.

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Also, “law enforcement was not involved in the decision made by either BCPS or its third party consultants to contact the attackers,” Olszewski wrote.

School officials have repeatedly declined to comment on whether they are in communication with the hackers.

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In a letter responding to the county executive, Williams said his team has been communicating with the FBI “throughout the process.”

“We have in no way attempted to exclude anyone from or impede the criminal investigation of this attack,” Williams wrote. “We have answered questions when we are able to do so and have referred questions to investigators and legal representatives when we cannot.”

The correspondence provides a glimpse into a dispute playing out between the Olszewski administration and school system leaders, who have revealed few specifics of the attack since the incident shut down county schools just before Thanksgiving.

Olszewski said he had set up an emergency operations center within 24 hours of the attack to coordinate the response. The county government will now “scale back its efforts” because school officials have not collaborated, he said in the letter.

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Olszewski added that the county attorney has “repeatedly requested” information about the school system’s cyber insurance, as well as a discussion of legal issues surrounding the attack — but has not gotten answers. And the Maryland Department of Information Technology is awaiting a response from the schools after repeated attempts to gather information for a forensic analysis, he wrote.

“At this juncture, it is unclear whether BCPS knows the identity of the hackers or the amount of ransom requested,” the county executive wrote. “There will be legal, financial and reputational consequences to an independent decision by BCPS to pay the ransom.”

In his reply, Williams said it “is unfortunate you have decided to withdraw support and resources from the school system.” The school system cannot access resources from the Maryland Emergency Management Agency without the county’s intervention, he wrote.

“I believe that our teams have worked collaboratively and productively during this crisis to support instruction,” Williams wrote.

A spokesman for Olszewski had no further comment on the letter.

“The letter speaks for itself,” said spokesman Sean Naron.

Cindy Sexton, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, called Olszewski’s letter concerning.

“Communication continues to be an area of concern in BCPS. Our educators, staff, students, families and community members deserve transparency,” Sexton said. “While we understand the need to keep some information private due to the ongoing investigation, we were all concerned when we read what’s in this letter.”

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