Ransomware Attacks are on the Rise: What K-12 Schools Should Know
K-12 Schools Ransomware Cyber Attacks

In early January 2023, a ransomware attack on Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS) caused significant disruptions in the largest school district in Iowa, forcing administrators to close all schools and turn off all of their network systems. At the end of the same month, the public schools in Nantucket, Massachusetts, were shut down following a ransomware attack targeting the entire school district’s computer system. The Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), the largest school district in southern Arizona, was also hit by a ransomware attack around the same period.

These are just some of the many incidents since the beginning of this year. The news is full of similar stories, indicating that ransomware attacks on K-12 schools, which have increased drastically during the COVID-19 pandemic, remain a significant threat to the country’s education sector and show no signs of slowing down any time soon.

K-12 Schools Ransomware Cyber Attacks

In 2022, at least 45 school districts suffered ransomware attacks, according to a report from Emsisoft, with the massive one on the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second-largest school district in the U.S., being among the most high-profile incidents last year. However, cybersecurity experts believe that the actual number of these malicious attacks is much higher, considering that not all cases are reported or publicly disclosed.

As cybercriminals continue targeting the education sector with ransomware attacks, let’s explore what ransomware is, how it affects K-12 schools, and what steps school districts can take to protect themselves against this growing threat.

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malware (malicious software) that encrypts the files or data on a victim's computer or network, rendering them unreadable and inaccessible to users. The cybercriminals then demand a ransom payment in exchange for the decryption key to unlock the files, threaten to publish them on the dark web, or delete them entirely if the ransom is not paid. Ransomware typically enters a school's network through email attachments, infected websites, or malicious links.

Why are K-12 schools a major target for ransomware attacks?

K-12 schools are particularly vulnerable to ransomware attacks due to several factors. Firstly, schools often have limited budgets for robust cybersecurity measures and lack dedicated IT staff, making them an easy target for cybercriminals.

K-12 Schools Ransomware Cyber Attacks

Secondly, schools store a lot of valuable data, including student records, staff and teacher personal data, financial information, and other sensitive data, which can be attractive to cybercriminals for various malicious purposes – they can hold it for ransom, sell it on the dark web, and use it for identity theft or financial fraud.

Finally, schools heavily rely on technology and typically have multiple entry points into their network – thousands of devices issued to students, teachers, and staff and many users accessing their system – making it challenging to identify and contain an attack.

How ransomware attacks impact K-12 schools?

The consequences of a successful ransomware attack on a K-12 school can be severe. These attacks result in theft and, in some cases, disclosure of sensitive information on the dark web, disruption of school operations, and significant financial losses, even if a ransom is not paid. The loss of learning following a cyberattack ranges from three days to three weeks, and recovery time could take anywhere from two to nine months, reported the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), adding that the financial impacts on school districts can be broad, ranging from $50,000 to $1 million, not including ransom payment. In addition, schools may face reputational damage following a successful attack.

What steps can K-12 schools take to protect themselves from ransomware attacks?

As ransomware attacks on K-12 schools continue to rise, schools must take proactive steps to protect themselves. While no system can ever be completely immune to cyber threats, here is what schools can do to reduce the risk of falling victim to a ransomware attack or soften the impact of one:

K-12 Schools Ransomware Cyber Attacks
  • Educate staff and students about cybersecurity best practices, including creating strong passwords, recognizing phishing emails, not clicking suspicious links and attachments, and reporting unusual activities.
  • Back up all critical data regularly in a secure location, so it can be restored if a ransomware attack hits the school.
  • Ensure that all software and systems are up-to-date and that security patches are applied promptly.
  • Implement multifactor authentication for all accounts to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data.
  • Develop an incident response plan outlining the steps to be taken after a ransomware attack, including who to contact, isolate infected systems, and communicate with staff, students, and parents.
  • Consider obtaining cyber insurance to help mitigate financial losses in the event of a ransomware attack.

What is cyber insurance for K-12 schools?

Cyber insurance, also known as cyber security insurance or cyber liability insurance, is a type of coverage designed to protect K-12 schools against financial losses and liabilities arising from cyber-related incidents, such as ransomware attacks, phishing scams, social engineering attacks, and data breaches. Worth Ave. Group’s cyber insurance policies provide coverage for various costs associated with cybercrimes, including:

  • Ransom payments in the event of a ransomware attack.
  • Recovery costs for restoring the system, including replacing hardware and data recovery efforts.
  • Legal expenses due to lawsuits from affected parties, such as parents or staff.
  • State and federal fines and penalties, an IT forensic investigation, and breach notification costs.
  • Credit monitoring services for breached individuals.

Cyber insurance can provide financial protection and assistance during a cyberattack, helping schools get back on their feet more quickly. That’s why it can be a worthwhile coverage and a vital part of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy to ensure that schools are adequately protected against the rising threat of cybercrimes, including ransomware attacks.

Recovering from a ransomware attack can be extremely expensive for any school or school district without cyber insurance in place. So, don’t let a ransomware attack catch you off guard – protect your school from known cybercrimes, including ransomware attacks, by getting cyber insurance for K-12 schools! Visit Cyber Insurance by Worth Ave. Group to learn more and start your quote!