Under attack: California schools face ransomware threat

By: | July 15, 2021

Experts interviewed by CalMatters — including researchers, cybersecurity companies, IT employees and the FBI — all agree the number of cyberattacks has increased over the pandemic. Many believe the number of attacks on the education sector has also increased, but it’s an area so new to cybercrime that there’s virtually no comprehensive data on it.

California schools, colleges and universities have scrambled to adjust. In the past five years, more than two dozen California school systems have been targeted, from Rialto Unified School District in San Bernardino to Stanford University’s School of Medicine.

Prior to the ransomware attack last September, Newhall School District had implemented what experts consider common sense security measures like internal firewalls to prevent malicious software from affecting entire systems. A few times a year, the IT department even sent students and employees fake “phishing” emails — deceptive emails enticing users to click on malicious links or reveal sensitive information — to see if they would click on suspicious links that could compromise their networks.

But none of these efforts stopped cybercriminals from attacking the district’s computer systems and rendering over 6,000 elementary school students and teachers without normal school for a week.

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