Cyber Security Awareness Month: School districts, colleges are huge targets for ransomware attacks

Posted at 5:38 AM, Oct 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-06 17:47:28-04

(WXYZ) — October is Cyber Security Awareness Month, and it's one of the most important things for all at home, work, and inside schools.

Ransomware and cyber attacks have hit schools and colleges harder than any other industry since the start of the pandemic.

These cyber-attacks can shut down districts, disrupt online learning, and even leak your personal information onto the dark web.

Unfortunately, the problem is happening in metro Detroit.

"One of their first steps is to contact us, and we are there to start a criminal investigation to determine who is behind this, who did it, who stole their files, and that kind of stuff," Sgt. Matt McLalin, from the Michigan State Police Intelligence Operations Division, said.

The most common hacks are ransomware attacks. This is where someone puts malware on a server and encrypts the information until someone pays a fee. Typically, it starts off as a spam email.

"Ransomware, in general, is concerning because a malicious actor is infiltrating a network and encrypting sensitive data files," he said. "Not only encrypting those so they can't be used, but also exfiltrating or stealing that data so sell on the dark web."

According to Microsoft Security Intelligence, from Aug. 14 to Sept. 12, schools and colleges were the targets of over 5.8 million malware attacks, equal to 63% of all that was reported.

In June, Monroe School District was hit by a "sophisticated cyber security attack" that affected the district's phone system and Google Software. They have since increased efforts to further protect their data.

At the Lincoln Park School District, a third party vendor impacted their third-party phone system.

The statement from Superintendent Terry Dangerfield reads in part, "This attack was isolated to the third-party vendor and had no impact or breach of any vital information contained within Lincoln Park Public Schools. Throughout this period, we maintained the ability to call out in event of an emergency. Our Technology Department found solutions to stay connected with our Railsplitter students and families, including alternate phone numbers to contact our school buildings."

There are some tips you can use to make sure your information is protected and you don't fall victim to hackers.

  • Teach the basics of email security to teachers and students
  • Never skip a security update
  • Change passwords frequently
  • Back up your data
  • Block access to suspicious websites
  • Implement an external sender email banner