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K-12 Schools Warned of Increasing Cyber-Attacks in U.S. Advisory

Hackers likely view schools “as targets of opportunity, and these types of attacks are expected to continue through the 2020/2021 academic year,” a federal advisory states.

(Bloomberg) -- Cyber criminals are increasingly launching attacks on kindergarten through 12th grade schools, and in some instances, rendering their computer networks inaccessible and disrupting distance learning, according to an advisory from the federal government.

Schools across the county have been the victim of ransomware attacks, which lock computers until a ransom is paid, as they have shifted to remote classes during the pandemic. The hackers have also stolen and threatened to leak confidential student data unless institutions pay a ransom, according the advisory from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Multi-State Information Sharing Analysis Center.

Hackers are expected to continue trying to exploit remote learning to launch attacks, authorities said.

Last month, for instance, Baltimore County schools were the victim of a ransomware attack which canceled classes for more than 115,000 students, the Baltimore Sun reported. In August and September, 57% of ransomware attacks reported to the analysis center in August and September involved K-12 schools, according to the advisory.

Hackers likely view schools “as targets of opportunity, and these types of attacks are expected to continue through the 2020/2021 academic year,” the advisory states. As schools struggle to adequately provide for their students during the pandemic, a cyber criminal may see a school as more likely to pay the ransom in order to restore service, rather than forgoing the ransom and rebuilding its computer infrastructure.

The advisory also warns that schools have been the target of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which can overwhelm a network with traffic, causing it to slow down or go offline completely. “The availability of DDoS-for-hire services provides opportunities for any motivated malicious cyber-actor to conduct disruptive attacks regardless of experience level,” officials said in the advisory.

Uninvited guests crashing video classes, known as “zoombombing,” is also a cause for concern. The FBI and DHS have received reports of outsiders crashing remote learning calls and “verbally harassing students and teachers, displaying pornography and/or violent images, and doxing meeting attendees,” according to the advisory. Doxing means maliciously publishing someone’s personal information on the internet.

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