BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Jefferson County Schools are reporting the school system was the victim of a ransomware attack over spring break, forcing them to rebuild their whole network and change the way they conduct classes this week.

According to cybersecurity experts, ransomware is a kind of malware that gets into your computer and essentially locks you out until you pay the hackers a ransom payment to remove it.

The school system said the attack was thankfully caught in the nick of time before any serious damage was done.

“That quick immediate action by that staff member or members allowed us to catch this early,” said Dr. Walter Gonsoulin, superintendent of Jefferson County Schools.

They received a ransom demand from hackers for an unspecified amount of money, and they refused to pay it or engage. Their technology team immediately took action and reached out to law enforcement for assistance.

While they’re still investigating how the malware infiltrated their system and who is behind it, Dr. Gonsoulin stressed they have the situation under control and are taking proactive security measures. In the meantime, they’re having classes this week the “old school way” with pen and paper.

“I want parents at this particular point and all of our stakeholders to feel rest assured that we have no evidence that none of our personal identifiable information was breached,” Gonsoulin said.

Sai Huda is a nationally known cybersecurity expert and the CEO of Cybercatch, a company that helps protect schools against ransomware. He revealed schools are actually a prime target for hackers.

“Schools are a treasure trove for the bad guys because schools have a lot of data. They have data about students over many years, they have data about faculty, teachers. They have data about staff, they have data about parents … That can be used for blackmail down the road or for dollars on the black market,” Huda said.

These hackers infiltrate a network through email, text or links, and Huda said they’re funded by criminal gangs or nation-states, such as Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.

He encouraged schools to stay up-to-date on federal security standards and to do regular “cyber drills” to pinpoint their security weak spots. To protect your computer, Huda suggests making your passwords longer and more complicated and to never click on an unfamiliar link.

Jefferson County Schools are waiting until next week before re-launching their system out of precaution.

“This is a big warning for all of us,” Huda said.