‘Hack’ to school? Some districts seeing cyberattacks

Education

(NewsNation) — Back-to-school season is becoming a lucrative time for hackers.

A new joint cybersecurity advisory published this week is warning that schools, which often lack the resources to defend themselves, are being targeted with ransomware attacks, disrupting the entire education system for those districts hit.

In the alert, the FBI, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center said cyber-attacks may increase as the 2022-2023 school year begins, as they’ve observed certain actors “disproportionately” targeting the education sector.

“K-12 institutions may be seen as particularly lucrative targets due to the amount of sensitive student data accessible through school systems or their managed service providers,” the alert said.

Impacts from these attacks include:

  • Restricted access to networks and data
  • Delayed exams
  • Canceled school days
  • Access to and theft of personal information regarding students and staff

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said some attacks are being carried out by a ransomware group called “Vice Society.”

Vice Society, according to the alert, is an intrusion, exfiltration and extortion hacking group that first appeared in 2021.

Victims claimed by the group include the Elmbrook School District in Wisconsin and the Savannah College of Art and Design.

This report comes after the Los Angeles Unified School District identified itself as the target of a ransomware and cyberattack over the weekend.

Authorities have not said whether they believe Vice Society is involved in the Los Angeles attack.

It happened around 10:30 p.m. on Saturday night, when the second-largest school district in the U.S. detected “unusual activity” within its cyber systems, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.

The attack is believed to be “criminal in nature,” NewsNation local affiliate KTLA said, and targeted the district’s Information Technology infrastructure, including email, computer systems and applications.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city sees 1 billion — “that’s with a b, a billion attacks” — a month.

Problems with cyberattacks can be even more pronounced at smaller school districts.

For instance, in Mansfield, Texas, when the district was hit with an attack, teachers could not print out their classes’ homework, and students could not use their computers.

There are some steps people can take to protect themselves, according to the FBI:

  • Implement a recovery plan in case data does become compromised
  • Create and maintain an offline data backup
  • Protect data by using encryption
  • Review security risk of third-party vendors and outside software
  • Document and monitor external remote connections

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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