Shakespeare Theatre in Madison cancels performance, says it’s victim of cyber attack

A notice on the Shakespeare Theatre of NJ website alerts patrons to an 'existential crisis' at the nonprofit production company.
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The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison cancelled Wednesday night’s performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol because it is dealing with a weekend ransomware attack that has disabled its patron database and ticketing system, according to the theater’s website.

Patrons’ personal data and credit card information were not compromised, said an “urgent emergency notification” posted by Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte. She said the theater is working with authorities in hopes of identifying the attacker, who struck “several companies of various types and sizes in our area and beyond.”

“The show must go on and this theatre must go on!” Monte vowed, beseeching supporters for “help, patience, understanding and good will” as the organization painstakingly attempts to rebuild its database — while presenting A Christmas Carol without the ability to reserve seats or even process credit card payments.

Shakespeare Theatre logoThe theater is asking anyone who already has tickets to email their seat numbers and performance date along with contact information.

“Then, come to the theatre on your performance date with your tickets or your confirmation email and we will seat you first. Only by seating those who have already purchased will we be able to tell which seats are available for sale.

“As you can see, this is a triple threat situation for us – we have no idea where anyone is sitting or when they are coming – therefore we have no idea which tickets are available for sale, and we have no information on how to contact any of our patrons at this moment in time.”

A Christmas Carol is scheduled to run through Dec. 29, 2019, on the campus of Drew University, home of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey since 1972.

The FBI defines ransomware as malware that encrypts files on a victim’s computer or server, making them unusable. Cyber criminals demand a ransom to provide a key to decrypt the victim’s files.

Bonnie J. Monte, artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre of NJ, will moderate a talk at the third annual Morristown Festival of Books. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Bonnie J. Monte, artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre of NJ, during happier times in 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

At least 621 U.S. government entities, healthcare service providers and school districts, colleges and universities were affected by ransomware in the first nine months of 2019, according to Emisoft, a New Zealand-based cyber security company.

Ransom demands can range from thousands to millions of dollars. In some cases rebuilding systems from scratch may cost even more. But the FBI warns there are no guarantees the decryption keys will work, and ransom payments only serve to embolden criminals.

Details about the ransom demands in the Shakespeare Theatre attack were not disclosed in Monte’s message, which also was  signed by General Manager Robert Worshinski and Marketing Director Jessica Damrow Sherman.

The impact, however, is “truly an existential crisis,” they continued.

For now, all future tickets must be sold just prior to each performance–cash or checks only–and seat assignments cannot be given until that moment.

“We will do everything we can to make your holiday visit here a good one and we will be rebuilding our database in every spare moment we have, in every way we can, in every effort to continue to serve you well,” they wrote.

“But this will be a Herculean task, and we ask that you lend us your kindness, your patience, your understanding, and your help in rebuilding the system by which we contact and stay connected with all of you. This is a very difficult time, and yet we will do everything in our power to retain your loyal patronage and admiration.”

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