The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in California, the 2nd largest school district in the USA, was attacked by hackers during the Labor Day weekend. The attack caused a ‘significant infrastructure disruption.’ Cybercriminals managed to infect and lock up computer networks part of the school district and demanded ransom. No classes were canceled, but the attack affected business hours and prompted the FBI to issue a security alert.
Luckily the attack did not affect the health of the 600,000+ students and did not cause significant problems with services such as transportation and food. However, the attack nearly caused an inability for the LAUSD to run school buses. If the incident had been discovered later than it was, approximately 40,000 students wouldn’t have been able to get to school on the day after the long weekend.
After the incident, the FBI warned that businesses and organizations in the education sector are frequent targets of ransomware attacks. Government agencies, including the FBI, CISA, and the MS-ISAC, believe that similar attacks will likely increase in the new 2022/2023 school year. Criminal ransomware groups are taking advantage of security loopholes often caused by old infrastructure and the lack of funds for cyber security. In addition, government agencies believe that hackers often see K-12 institutions as lucrative targets because of the piles of sensitive student data accessible through school systems or their IT service providers.
Authorities believe that foreign states are behind the attack on LAUSD and other attacks observed in other schools in the country. Alberto Carvalho, LAUSD superintendent, refused to name the countries that might be behind the attack. Hackers are targeting school districts at high rates. So far, in 2022, approximately 30 school districts have been affected by similar ransomware attacks.
Government security agencies always advise organizations not to pay a ransom, but according to The Guardian, over 45% of all affected educational organizations reported paying ransom to reinstate lost data. It is currently unknown whether LAUSD paid the hackers.
While LAUSD managed to go through the crisis without causing interruptions in the school classes, earlier this year, a similar hacker attack forced the biggest school district in Albuquerque, NM, to close school for days. Such incidents harm students who miss material and cause substantial monetary loss to parents who are forced to make emergency plans, skip work, and look for childcare. Experts say that every person could be a weak point for a school district – phishing emails could easily be overlooked, especially by youngsters, so having proper antivirus software on all connected devices is undoubtedly helpful in the fight against cyber criminals.