Department Of Education Raises Alarm Bells About Cyber Attacks On Students

More than 30 schools have been forced to shut, after coming under attack from hackers in the last few months, as cybercriminals increasingly target America’s youngest citizens. From elementary school to university level, the Department of Education issued a warning about these hackers. The attackers, who have similar tactics to the Netflix hackers known as “The Dark Overlord”, have been stealing class records and demanding a ransom of up to $150,000 in Bitcoin. This a new tactic, compared to recent trends of attacking governments and celebrities.



Why are students being targeted?


The average age for an American to own their own smartphone now stands at 10.3 years old. This means that millions of American preteens and teens, who may not have the same grasp of online safety, are potential victims to cyber criminals. Older students, such as those at college, can be drawn in by financial scams. After finding funding for education, students may risk losing it to a ransom note.

Attackers are also targeting school systems directly, which contain sensitive data. They recognize that a government institution may be better placed to pay a large ransom than students are. This is then coupled with the climate of fear surrounding school shootings, with cybercriminals threatening to “splatter kids’ blood in the hallways”. They are also using bully and harassment tactics on students to convince them to pay up.

Where are these attacks coming from?


The FBI’s investigation is ongoing, but it is likely that these attacks are originating from overseas. Fortunately, law enforcement has not determined any physical threats to be credible. A suspect thought to be part of the so-called Dark Overlord hacker group was recently arrested in Serbia, showing how the internet allows people to be attacked from anywhere in the world. The FBI is working with foreign governments to bring all cyber criminals to justice.

What can schools do to protect themselves?


The schools which were attacked have been shown to have the lowest levels of security. This suggests that more needs to be done to ensure adequate security practices, protecting sensitive data. Both children and adults need to be given special training on how to stay safe online so that this kind of attack doesn’t happen in future.

Young children should be taught how to keep their personal information hidden and to not interact with strangers. Staff and older children need to have regular security audits, to identify and strengthen any vulnerable areas. With students increasingly working on the move, they are often connecting to networks with limited security in place, leaving them more vulnerable to cybercriminals.

These attacks are designed to be scary, but fortunately no credible threats of physical violence have been found and no one has been hurt. The age of the victims is a concern for parents, but schools are looking to do more to strengthen their security and teach staff and students alike how to stay safe online

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