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Jackson, Hillsdale schools cyber attack investigation continues, expert weighs in

Cyber security
Posted at 7:35 PM, Nov 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-18 12:29:07-05

JACKSON, Mich. — For three days you could have only heard the wind howling outside at schools in Jackson and Hillsdale counties.

They’re back in school Thursday for the first time all week, but it wasn’t the weather that kept them away. It was cybercrime, specifically, ransomware.

“Not only will they encrypt and disable workstations, but they’ll also exfiltrate data, and then, they’ll hold you for another ransom to say not only do you have to pay to get to unlock your machines, we are going to release the data that we’ve gathered in this hack,” Check Point Head of Engineering Tony Sabaj said.

While the districts continue searching for answers in this specific case, we talked to Sabaj about the bigger issues schools are up against.

“Part of the reason why educational systems I think are targeted is a lot of the cybersecurity defense spending probably isn’t up to par in a school district,” he said. “We all know school districts are struggling with budgets, and they’re trying to put education and safety first and maybe cybersecurity isn’t as high up on the priority list as it needs to be.”

He says most of these hacks start through some type of phishing e-mail.

“Someone’s sending you a malicious link in an e-mail or redirecting you to a malicious website, and you get a user to actually let the hackers in,” Sabaj said.

Then, important information can easily get in the hands of the wrong people.

“If data was exfiltrated, we’re talking about personal data around minors and children,” Sabaj said. “It could be health information, behavioral information, absentee information, obviously personal information like addresses and ages and even photographs, so it’s not just that school’s out, but also could be very personal data on young children has now been exfiltrated to a group that may or may not care about the data.”

We don’t know yet if that happened in this instance.

It still remains under investigation. As of Thursday morning, students and staff still had limited access to technology.

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