Wednesday, February 02, 2022

Hackers targeted smaller schools in 2021; towns say they need help scoring federal funds to boost cybersecurity

Cyberattacks are a growing threat to schools, "and the coronavirus pandemic has compounded their effects: More money has been demanded, and more schools have had to shut down as they scramble to recover data or even manually wipe all laptops," Cedar Attanasio reports for The Associated Press.

Schools are a tempting target for hackers: they often have limited budgets for cybersecurity, and the increasing trend of virtual learning during the pandemic has made them all the more dependent on technology and vulnerable to extortion, according to Doug Levin, director of school cybersecurity nonprofit K12 Security Information Exchange. "Levin’s group has tracked well over 1,200 cyber security incidents since 2016 at public school districts across the country," Attanasio reports. "They included 209 ransomware attacks, when hackers lock data up and charge to unlock it; 53 'denial of service' attacks, where attackers sabotage or slow a network by faking server requests; 156 'Zoombombing' incidents, where an unauthorized person intrudes on a video call; and more than 110 phishing attacks, where a deceptive message tricks a user to let a hacker into their network."

In 2021, ransomware gangs tended to target smaller school districts than in 2020. One threat analyst said that may be because larger districts are spending more on cybersecurity, while smaller districts remain vulnerable, Attanasio reports.

"In October, President Joe Biden signed the K-12 Cybersecurity Act, which calls for the federal cyber security agency to make recommendations about how to help school systems better protect themselves," Attanasio reports. And the infrastructure bill dedicated $1 billion for federal cybersecurity grant systems. But smaller city and county governments worry they'll miss out on the money because they don't have the resources or expertise to create proposals.

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