A recent report by Armor revealed that 11 U.S. school districts have been hit by ransomware attacks since late October. Together, these districts encompass a total of 226 individual schools. The potential for losses has been high in these scenarios, as is the risk to any third-party providers who worked with the school districts’ networks or private data. Armor’s report also concluded that:

  • A shocking 1,039 schools throughout the United States have been targeted by hackers since January 2019.
  • The number of schools affected by ransomware has doubled in the last three months.
  • 72 school districts and/or educational institutions have publicly reported being victims of a ransomware attack.
  • Of the 11 school districts hit in this last attack wave, only one reported having paid the ransom, while 3 reported refusal to pay. Seven of the schools have not stated whether they paid the ransom or not.

In a separate report, Emsisoft indicated that 86 school districts and education institutions (totaling up to 1,224 individual schools) were affected by ransomware in 2019.

Impact of Ransomware on Schools

Cyber threat actors seek out organizations or users with valuable data that can be stolen or leveraged. City and local governments, medical offices, and large corporations tend to come to mind — but schools are also prime targets. Even small school districts have come under attack as of late.

School systems contain large amounts of information about students, faculty, and operations. Hackers know that if they can put that data in danger, schools will pay to avoid losing it. Additionally, schools are usually heavily reliant on technology for day-to-day functions. Widespread shutdowns would impact thousands of students.

To make things worse, schools often operate on tight budgets, and that frequently means IT short-staffing or insufficient cybersecurity budgets. When this is the case, any type of cyberattack can be devastating. The attack against Las Cruces Public Schools resulted in a total shutdown of ~30,000 devices throughout 42 schools, as well as full hard drive wipes. In another attack aimed at Louisiana school districts, Governor John Edwards declared a state of emergency.

Recently Targeted School Districts

  • Sycamore School District 427, DeKalb, IL
  • San Bernardino City Unified School District, San Bernardino, CA
  • Las Cruces Public Schools, Las Cruces, NM
  • Livingston New Jersey School District, Livingston, NJ.
  • Chicopee Public Schools, Chicopee, MA
  • Maine School Administrative District #6, Buxton, ME
  • Lincoln County, Brookhaven, MS
  • Claremont Unified School District, Claremont, CA
  • Wood County Schools, Parkersburg, West VA
  • Port Neches-Groves Independent School District, Port Neches, TX
  • Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation, Mishawaka, IN