At a time when online classes and communication are more important than ever, students at schools in Portland’s Centennial School District went without access to virtual learning systems for over a week due to a school district data breach that has affected its entire network.
After discovering a malware data breach that had seen the district’s online systems compromised, including data being encrypted by an unknown actor, the school district quickly responded by taking the network offline and canceling all online classes for 48 hours.
However, as the severity of the breach became known, the systems remained offline, and students have been forced to pick up paper work packets from their schools before returning home to complete their studies without the support of teachers and educators. While the full extent of compromised files remains unknown, staff and students could be affected, and the attackers have now claimed to have published information from the breach on the dark web.
Carol Fenstermacher of the Centennial School District confirmed that school officials are working quickly to rectify the issue, but will not put student data at risk. She stated that the school’s IT experts, along with outside professionals, are “slowly trying to bring some of the servers back up and they have to make sure things are cleaned up, that there’s nothing in there that shouldn’t be there. So it’s a long slow process”
With the Centennial School District encompassing over 6,100 students in the regions of Southeast Portland and Gresham, the situation has caused a lot of stress for students, teachers, schools, and parents alike. Unfortunately, Portland is not alone in facing a school distinct data breach.
In fact, the Association Press has confirmed that over 20 breaches of this ilk have hit over 550 U.S. schools in 2021 alone. This includes 26,000 stolen files from a South Florida school district that were published after a $40 million ransom was not paid. It is suggested that, globally, a set of schools closes each month as a result of cyberattacks and ransomware.
With the pandemic still affecting the education sector in a big way, hackers have tried to capitalize with ransomware and other data breaches that could release personal information relating to students while also targeting schools for financial payments.
As well as launching its investigation and investing in advanced cybersecurity, the district also reported the data breach to federal investigators with hopes of preventing any further damage. This includes data being sold on the dark web, as well as direct demands for payments or risk having files deleted.
The Centennial School District data breach, along with the general stats surrounding the spike in cyberattacks aimed at schools, should kick school organizers into gear when it comes to cybersecurity. Hiring a reputable Portland IT company to build a secure infrastructure for facilitating a safe environment in schools could prevent similar disasters in the future.
Educators and students must be taught about digital threats and the necessary precautions. If vulnerabilities remain, cybercriminals will look to capitalize. Given the challenges that educators already face in these unprecedented times, prevention is the best form of protection.