Cyber security attacks on the rise, targeting school systems

Cyberattacks on the rise, schools targeted
Published: Sep. 7, 2022 at 11:14 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Cyber attacks are on the rise across the country. Ransomware is a growing concern, with health care facilities and school systems becoming targets for cyber criminals. The federal government is warning school districts across the country to up its cyber security protections. The warning comes after one of the largest school districts in the U-S was hit in a ransomware attack over Labor Day weekend.

“The criminal groups are not so much interested in being disruptive, like a terrorist group might do, but more of ‘how do I extort you for money?’”

Cyber Security Expert Marc Sachs with the McCrary Institute says instead of going after major companies and banks, criminals see school districts with limited cyber security resources as easy pickings.

“They recognize that large school district, like the one out in Los Angeles and the city of Atlanta for example a few years ago,” he says. “These are infrastructures that must operate and they do have large purses and are probably willing to pay millions of dollars the ransom in order to unlock their machines.”

In November 2020, Huntsville City Schools was hit by a ransomware attack. Ransomware is malicious software that denies access to computer devices or files until a ransom is paid. At last check, the District never had to pay any ransom.

Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Christie Finley says receiving a bigger budget for cybersecurity is a big priority for districts across the state.

“We have a very forward thinking IT department and that is led by our Chief of Information Technology Emily Elam,” she says. “She has come in, she’s put together a very strategic plan to upgrade a lot of our infrastructure, but in addition to that, making sure we’re guarding students’ safety in terms of their privacy. A lot of information that we need to make sure that remains private.”

Preventing these attacks can be as simple as being aware of what you receive in emails, being sure not to click on any links that could be suspicious.

Huntsville City Schools isn’t the only district to be hit with ransomware attacks. Just this year alone, at least 26 U.S. school districts have been infected with ransomware. There have been seven attacks in just the month of August according to Recorded Future, a cybersecurity company that tracks incidents across the country.