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Cyberattacks increasingly cause more problems for pandemic-weary US schools

Sarah Hager
Posted at 12:49 PM, Jan 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-31 14:49:41-05

Cyberattacks have crippled schools in recent weeks as teachers become more reliant on computers to take attendance and deliver lessons.

Cybersecurity experts say that ransomware attacks on K-12 schools have increased during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, cyber hacks of schools rarely led to canceled classes.

While actual snow days are less frequent because children can learn from home when there's bad weather, this month at least two schools in New Mexico and Wisconsin took "cyber snow days," canceling classes to repair the damage from attacks by hackers. Disruptions of software used to record attendance and grades make teaching even more stressful on top of COVID-19 protocols and staffing shortages.

By mid-January Albuquerque Public Schools still reported that the school system's computers were recovering after a cyberattack crippled operations. New Mexico's Las Cruces Public Schools, which is the second-largest school system in the state, suffered their own attack in 2019.

Late last year, Wisconsin school officials announced that the Janesville School District had been hit with an apparent ransomware attack after IT workers noticed in system code. As Wisconsin Public Radio reported, the attack locked serves and brought down wifi, the district said.

"Too many cybersecurity incidents are the result of basic security failings," said Brett Callow, a Canada-based threat analyst of Emsisoft. By mid-2021, at least 830 individual schools in the United States had been hit by ransomware attacks, Politico reported.

As Southeast Missouri Public Radio reported, while federal government has set aside money to help localities improve cybersecurity, rural schools with tight budgets will need to step up security measures to avoid more cyberattacks. A comprehensive security plan is required to apply for grants, and resources along with expertise are needed to form those plans.

Scott Avery, the city administrator in the small town of Houston, Missouri said, “Getting and administering any grant is a lot of work.” Avery has just two other people who work for him.

In 2020, schools in Hartford, Conn. had to postpone the first day of school for 18,000 students after being hit with a ransomware attack, according to the New York Times. And in the summer of 2019, Louisiana's governor declared a state of emergency after what was described as a local ransomware outbreak .