The school year got off to a rocky start in Hartford, Connecticut this month. On top of all of the complications brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the beginning of the academic year was delayed because a ransomware attack hit the city, according to the Hartford Courant.
The system that provides real-time information on school bus routes was targeted, affecting the 4,000 students in the district who rely on buses to get to school.
The Courant reports that this unfortunately isn’t a rare phenomenon. Ransomware attacks in 2019 hit at least 89 school systems in the United States. This had wide ranging impacts — from surveillance systems going down to student grades being lost.
“We’ve seen a lot of ransomware attacks in the past couple of years. Things have quieted down for the beginning of this year with all the COVID stuff, but in the past two weeks, we’ve seen it up and down the East Coast,” Tim Weber, director of security services at Adnet Technologies, told Hartford’s WFSB. He added that North Carolina and Miami schools were also recently targets for this kind of disruptive cybercrime.
These recent events reveal a bleak reality for students and teachers returning to school this month — cybercrime is running rampant in American education.
With the increased reliance on remote digital learning, schools are particularly vulnerable to these hacks. Oftentimes, they’re ill-prepared to protect their students and computer systems.
It’s important that parents and guardians monitor what their young at-home learners are looking at on their computers.
As usual, the essential cybersecurity recommendations apply: Don’t open strange attachments or emails, don’t provide personal information if an email or social media DM asks for it, and please use caution when navigating to sites that might extend beyond a teacher’s purview.
These same words of wisdom should apply to educators, too. Cyber criminals target everyone, young and old.
My TechDecisions reports on this recent wave of attacks on school districts. They cite Doug Levin, president of EdTech Strategies, who told The Reading Eagle that it’s crucial everyone — from parents to students to school administrators alike — be vigilant at this time:
“There is a very high likelihood this is going to be a very rocky fall for school districts with respect to cybersecurity,” he said. “Online learning means school districts will experience a proliferation of devices interacting on their networks, stretching existing security measures thin. Furthermore, home networks tend to be less secure and less frequently maintained than school networks.”