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Esterhazy community pulls together from preschool cyber attack

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Esterhazy, Sask. -

Esterhazy’s Growing Tree Preschool recently fell victim to a cyber scam resulting in approximately $20,000 being stolen from the not-for-profit’s financial accounts.

"We're not exactly sure how, but some people illegally gained access to our account and they withdrew all of the funds that we had for operating for the year, and then they continued to withdraw and put us into an overdraft situation,” said Regan Ignatow, President of Growing Tree Preschool Board.

Serving over 20 families and employing 10 people in the community, Ignatow said the cyber attack certainly took a toll on everyone’s mental state.

“For the board and for the parents it’s an incredibly stressful situation,” said Ignatow. “To know that you had everything you needed in order to operate for the year, and then go to a position where every week you’re wondering if today is going to be the day we have to announce we’re not going to be able to continue.”

One parent from the community said the preschool has been an essential service to her family for years.

“I've already had one kid go through the program and he is now in Grade 1,” said Suz McFadden of Esterhazy.

“I can tell you that he was a stay at home kid before he came to Growing Tree so it really changed how he interacted with the school. He was comfortable, he knew the teachers, he knew the hallways, he was not just academically ready for kindergarten, he was socially and emotionally ready for kindergarten.”

Teacher Sophie Rausch said having the preschool program inside Esterhazy’s elementary school makes the transition for kids seamless.

“This preschool is extremely important to the community of Esterhazy,” she said.

“We are located in P.J Gillen School and are located right beside the kindergarten room. Therefore, our kindergarteners when they head off to kindergarten, the transition is seamless. They walk in the doors on the first day, they walk past my door, give a wave and they’re off to kindergarten. They’re with the big kids now.”

Brennen Schmidt, a cyber security expert from Regina, spoke to CTV News about the different measures non-profit organizations and companies can take to protect themselves from cyber attacks.

"This is something that isn't going to be going away and I think that it's so important for all sectors to do what they can to safeguard themselves, especially as we start to see more sophisticated threat actors presenting themselves here,” he said.

“In terms of practical tips for some of these organizations I would say exercising as much vigilance as you can is so important. If there is a demand for something and if there’s a lot of urgency to it, try to take a bit of a measured approach and consider what’s being asked of you, especially if it’s a financial transaction that seems out of the ordinary.”

Schmidt also advised to use safeguards on online bank accounts and pay stubs, such as password managers or multiple password generators.

In hopes of staying open in the community, Esterhazy’s Growing Tree Preschool is having an online auction to recover from the breach from Dec. 8 to 10.

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