FBI warns schools of a possible cyber attack as students begin virtual learning

Updated: Aug. 11, 2020 at 4:55 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - As tens of thousands of kids begin virtual learning, there’s a warning from the FBI.

Schools K-12 will likely be targeted as a victim of ransomware.

“Well, with so many kids that will be conducting school virtually, that increases the risk. That opens the door for an attacker to actually compromise either the school district’s network or the kids’ computers,” says FBI Supervisory Special Agent Corey Harris.

Ransomware is a type of security attack that holds data hostage and demands money to give it back. Harris says the attacker will be looking for any and all personal information in a school’s network.

“They could get the kids social security number or even the faculty and staff’s personal information, says Harris.

“Obviously a school doesn’t want all of their parent financial information and what know what else they have, to be released publicly on the internet,” says Bellwether Technology President, Steven Ellis.

Ellis points out schools, in general, are often more vulnerable to an attack.

“They may not have the focus or the resources that businesses may have to make sure they’re using cyber controls and protecting things,” says Ellis.

Being attacked could be a big problem for school districts.

Harris says without records, grades and registration information, virtual learning may have to be stopped.

“They would have to shut the schools down if the school is hit with ransomware,” says Harris.

“It can be a difficult and fairly sophisticated challenge to discover them,” says Ellis.

Ellis explains, there are things schools can do to protect themselves, like enhancing password protections.

“Other things a school could do is, if you’re setting up any sort of remote access is to make sure that you are reviewing the way it’s configured and that you are taking steps to change certain default settings, so that it’s not easily discoverable and you won’t be attacked by criminals,” says Ellis.

Plus, he says it’s always important to back up the data.

“We want all school districts to be prepared and understand that there’s a possibility that they could be attacked,” says Harris.

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