TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) – As school districts come up with plans to safely return to the classroom this fall, the FBI warns districts to be prepared in case of a ransomware attack.

According to an FBI alert sent to the University of Advancing Technology in Tempe, hackers targeting K-12 schools and infecting computer systems with ransomware is likely to increase during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ransomware is a type of security attack that holds data hostage and demands money to give it back.

“Ransomware doesn’t actually care about the information, by and large they’re not trying to sell your information, they just know you need the info to function,” explained Dr. Dave Bolman, UAT provost.

That poses a problem for school districts. Without access to grades, attendance, health records, registration information, classes could get cancelled or delayed for days.

“What ransomware attacks are trying to do is shut schools down, especially when they’re very busy, resources are stressed, and they’re getting ready to do things they’ve never done before,” explained Dr. Bolman.

“(Ransomware) quietly collects your information and at some point in time, when they feel they have enough information that you value, they will lock your computer down and require you to use a very specific code that only they can provide to unlock your data and of course ask money for that, hence the ransom,” he added.

Bolman said small, medium, and large school districts are being targeted for different reasons. Some maybe stretched thin and focused on curriculum and operational procedures than cyber security.

“What’s happening right now is all the K-12 schools are scrambling trying to figure out how they’re going to deliver their classes in a pandemic mode and that’s causing administrations to do a couple things: one, be a little distracted, two, they’re going to be using far more computers than they’ve ever used before and that’s a vulnerability.”

The FBI advises school districts never give into a ransomware hackers demands, because it’s not guaranteed you’ll get your files back and the hackers might hit the district again in the future and ask for even more money.

According to the FBI, some of the things districts can do to protect its computer systems from ransomware attacks include keeping software up to date, backup data in more than one location, & have a plan in case it does happen. 

 

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