Dr. Lisa Williams

Thomas County Schools Superintendent Dr. Lisa Williams

THOMASVILLE — Security protocols put in place by the Thomas County School System and its banking partner, Thomasville National Bank, foiled efforts by would-be hackers to steal nearly $2 million in payroll funds from a school system account, school system officials said.

Criminals obtained unauthorized access to computer files that contain accounting and payroll information, said Superintendent Dr. Lisa Williams.

“The perpetrators attempted to use this information to initiate fraudulent wire transfers from the school system account to a series of out-of-state entities,” she said. “Even though the hackers did not obtain any money, they did gain access to payroll records, which include the names, employee identification numbers, bank account numbers and bank routing numbers for school district employees.”

On Tuesday afternoon, investigators did not believe hackers gained access to Social Security numbers or passwords to individual employee accounts.

Soon after discovering the potential breach, the school district retained BlueVoyant, a leading IT investigation and security firm, to deploy specialized software to investigate the attack and to prevent further attacks. The school district has cybersecurity insurance that is assisting with recovery from the data breach.

“While it appears at this time that the primary objective of the criminals was the theft of school district funds, Thomas County School System employees have been advised to carefully monitor their accounts and to immediately report to their banks any fraudulent withdrawals or other suspicious activity on their accounts,” Williams said.

Employees also have been cautioned to change their passwords on school district computers and to be mindful of any suspicious emails. The notification sent to school district employees cautions employees to “think before they click” on any unexpected emails.

“If you have any doubts about an email’s authenticity, contact the sender, and send it to your school technology specialist,” the notice states.

In the notice to employees, Williams stated, “The Thomas County School District values its employees and respects the privacy of their personal information. Protecting the security of our employees’ personal information is a top priority for the district. We value and respect the privacy of your information, and we sincerely apologize for any concern or inconvenience this may cause you.”

A copy of the notice to employees is available on the school district’s website.