Cyber Attacks Overwhelm Schools, Affect Students’ Education

Schools are becoming more of a target for cyber attacks because of the sensitive data they carry, including Social Security numbers.
Published: July 18, 2019

Cyber attacks often force schools to halt education when the internet is breached, and districts have to pull the plug on smart boards, student laptops and other internet-powered tools.

While hospitals and banks are often more of a target for hackers, schools are being attacked as well because they carry sensitive data, according to the FBI. Perpetrators include criminals motivated by profit, juvenile pranksters and possibly foreign governments.

Students suspected of involvement in cybersecurity breaches can be hit with felony charges, reports ABC News.

It is nearly impossible to know how frequently the attacks occur because many go unreported when data is not compromised.

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Over a six-week period, hackers kept attacking a Connecticut tech school system, sometimes several times a day.

While there was no breach of sensitive data files, the Avon Public School system was still affected. Certain lesson plans had to be stopped because they were built around access to the internet.

“The first time I called the FBI, their first question was, ‘Well, what did it cost you?’” said Robert Vojtek, the district’s technology director. “It’s like, ‘Well, we were down for three-quarters of a day, we have 4,000 students, we have almost 500 adults, and teaching and learning stopped for an entire day.’ So how do you put a price tag on that?”

Schools in the Florida Keys were forced to go offline for several days last September due to a malware attack. Superintendent Mark Porter said teachers were able to adapt to the changes quickly.

“I heard a little grumbling at the beginning and then the comment was, ‘I guess we’ll have to go old school,’” Porter said. “And they went back to work and did it the way they probably did it just a few years ago.”

In March, a Nigerian man living in Georgia was sentenced to 10 months in prison and ordered to be deported for his role in an email scheme that used tax information from Connecticut school employees to falsely claim tax refunds.

In many cases, though, school officials never learn who is behind the attacks.

In September, the FBI issued a public service announcement warning the growth of education technologies and widespread collection of student information. It said that malicious use of the data could lead to bullying, tracking, identity theft and other threats.

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