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Cyberattacks on School Districts Are Growing; Schools Need to Take Immediate Action

The number of cyber-attacks on school districts has been steadily climbing. Hackers are searching for the financial information and social security numbers of the individuals within the school district they attack. These threats pose a danger to students and employees' personal information. These threats may cause the school to close for several days, forcing the students' learning to be placed on hold.


Schools have become targets of these attacks because they possess their student's confidential data, including health records, Social Security numbers, and financial information. Many school districts are data-rich and resource-poor, making them appealing targets for financially motivated cyber threats. A school's lack of cyber security makes them easy targets for hackers.


Des Moines public schools, the largest school district in Iowa with more than five thousand employees and over thirty-one thousand students, were faced with a cyberattack on January 9, 2023. The school canceled all classes on Tuesday, January 10, after taking all networked systems offline in response to "unusual" activity detected on the network from the previous day.


Ransomware attacks hit eighty-nine organizations in the United States education section in 2022. According to Bleeping Computer, these attacks included forty-four universities and forty-five school districts. According to the cybersecurity company Emsisoft, fifty-eight had victims' data stolen in those attacks.


According to Akins IT, the most common cyber threats to a school district are phishing, human error leading to breaches in cybersecurity, ransomware, a password attack, and form jacking. Schools are an ideal target for hackers because they contain personal data. Hackers commonly breach a server with personal and financial information through admission information and student IDs.


To avoid cyber threats, schools should use a spam filter. According to Akins IT, the filter will identify all phishing attempts, educate all personnel, seek professional help from a security specialist, create complex passwords, and run vulnerability tests.


Cyber liability insurance is a tool that can help schools recover after a cyberattack occurs. The insurance will not stop the cyber-attacks from happening but could provide school districts assistance with recovery relief following the incident. However, this insurance may be something other than what school districts can afford.


School systems are highly dependent on technology and the systems that they have in place. When a school's system is attacked, it impacts every aspect of the organization. When the systems are tampered with, the school cannot function correctly, forcing the school to shut down until the problem is resolved.


According to the Des Moines school district's interim superintendent, Matt Smith, when a school district's system is down, it affects everything from school bus routes to lunch systems.


The first cyberattack on a school system occurred in 2002. Hackers from Princeton University attacked Yale's security system. This incident sparked a series of attacks directed at students and employees from other universities. The education sector was the third most affected sector by data breaches in the United States in 2019, according to Statista.


Cyber-attacks on school districts are not a growing phenomenon but are growing in scale. School districts need to put proper systems in place to keep both the school as a whole and everyone a part of it safe.

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