La Crosse area school officials are double checking payroll security after hackers made off with $150,000 from a western Wisconsin school district.
The money was designated as pay for teachers and staff working for Stanley-Boyd public schools in Chippewa County, but the funds disappeared last week somewhere in the course of digital transfers between the school district, a Madison-based bank and employee bank accounts.
La Crosse area school administrators say they work closely with banks
to make sure payroll is handled securely. However, safety measures vary, depending on the financial institution charged with receiving and distributing direct deposits.
“We do try and protect to the best of our ability,” said Larry Dalton, finance director for the Onalaska School District.
Dalton called Merchants Bank on Wednesday to ask about the situation at Stanley-Boyd schools. Merchants handles the Onalaska district’s payroll.
Dalton wants to know more about incident to determine if Onalaska schools need stronger security.
“Hopefully, we’ll all learn from this and see if there’s a way of tightening things up,” Dalton said.
Janet Rosseter, finance director for the La Crosse School District, said officials take preventative measures to keep payroll information from falling into the wrong hands.
Security is discussed during regular meetings between La Crosse school officials and Wells Fargo, the district’s bank, Rosseter said.
“That’s not a conversation that happens in reaction to something,” Rosseter said. “It’s a proactive conversation that we have at an ongoing basis.”
In a digital world where nearly all payroll information is handled online, school districts already use special encryptions and passwords to protect against hackers.
Some take extra safety measures when it comes to the transmission of private financial data like direct deposit information. Holmen public schools use a double verification system that involves additional codes and communication between the district and the bank, said Jason Austin, the district’s finance director.
Austin is confident the added buffer is enough to confound a would-be hacker.
“I’d like to see him try,” Austin said.
Still, no security measure is foolproof. Even the latest technology is only part of an endless battle of wills between organizations and the people they want to protect against, Dalton said.
“For them, it’s a game of figuring out how to get in,” Dalton said. “For us, it’s a game of heightening security.”