During an early morning staff call, instructors at a middle school in New Mexico’s largest city got their first hint of a major technology problem.
There were clues of a looming crisis throughout the conversation between the school authorities. Nobody had access to attendance data, and no one had access to class rosters or grades.
The outage, which prevented access to the district’s student database, which also includes emergency contacts and listings of which people are authorised to pick up which children, was subsequently verified by Albuquerque administrators to be the result of a ransomware attack.
Sarah Hager, an art teacher at Cleveland Middle School, stated, “I didn’t understand how crucial it was until I couldn’t use it.”
Cyberattacks like the one that forced Albuquerque’s largest school district to suspend classes for two days have become a growing menace to American schools, with many high-profile occurrences documented since last year. And the coronavirus outbreak has exacerbated the problem: more money is being demanded, and more schools are being forced to close as they try to recover data or delete all laptops manually.
As most schools are not compelled to publicly report cyberattacks, precise data is difficult to come by. Experts claim, however, that public school systems, which generally have inadequate finances for cybersecurity expertise, have become an attractive target for ransomware gangs.
The pandemic has also caused schools to shift more toward virtual learning, increasing their reliance on technology and rendering them more exposed to cyber-extortion. Schools in Baltimore County and Miami-Dade County, as well as schools in New Jersey, Wisconsin, and others, have had their instruction disrupted.