US Dept. of Education: Hackers are Actively Targeting Schools

The US Department of Education is warning teachers, parents and K-12 education staff of an emerging cyberthreat targeting school districts all over the country.

Columbia Falls, Montana schools superintendent Steve Bradshaw originally received a threat in mid-September via a text message. Unbeknownst to him, the threat came from a hacker attempting to exploit his Montana school district. Soon enough, students and other schools around Flathead County began receive threats and eventually, over 30 schools in the district shut down for three days.

“The messages weren’t pleasant messages,” Bradshaw revealed. “They were ‘splatter kids’ blood in the hallways,’ and things like that.”

In an advisory, the US Department of Education is now warning school districts across the country about ongoing extortion attempts and cyberattacks.

The department wrote:

Schools have long been targets for cyber thieves and criminals.  We are writing to let you know of a new threat, where the criminals are seeking to extort money from school districts and other educational institutions on the threat of releasing sensitive data from student records.  In some cases, this has included threats of violence, shaming, or bullying the children unless payment is received.

Bradshow revealed that a hacking group broke into multiple school servers before stealing information of students and possibly, even staff. The threats followed with ransom demands. A ransom note sent to several schools in the Columbia Falls district from a hacking group called the ‘Dark Overlord’ demanded up to $150,000 in bitcoin to destroy the stolen private data.

“We feel this is important to allow our community to understand that the threats were not real, and were simply a tactic used by the cyber extortionists to facilitate their demand for money,” the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post last month.

The attacks are actively being investigated by the FBI the DOE revealed.

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