FBI Warning: Increase in Ransomware Attacks on Virtual Classrooms

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The broad move to distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about cybersecurity challenges. An increase in ransomware attacks has urged the FBI to warn against cyberattacks on virtual classrooms. The FBI is warning students, teachers and parents that cybercriminals and bad actors are looking to exploit online classrooms.

In early December, the FBI and the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a warning that showed a nearly 30% increase in ransomware attacks against schools.

“In August and September, 57% of ransomware incidents reported to the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) involved K-12 schools, compared to 28% of all reported ransomware incidents from January through July,” the alert said.

FBI Cyber Section Chief Dave Ring told ABC News: “It’s of greater concern now when it comes to K-12 education, because so many more people are plugged into the technology with schooling because of the distance learning situation,” he said. “So things like distributed denial of service attacks, even ransomware and of course, domain spoofing, because parents are interacting so much more with the schools online.”

Attacks on virtual classrooms vary. In Athens, Texas, criminals blocked hundreds of files, and the school district paid a ransom this summer to unlock them. Another common incident that happens, according to Ring, is “zoombombing” – a practice where criminals enter an online classroom and post or yell a racist or inflammatory slur.

What is the motivation? “The broader the move to distance learning, I think the more attacks you’re going to see, just simply because there are more opportunities for it and it’s more disruptive,” he explained. “A lot are looking to steal information. They’re looking to use that for financial gain. They’re looking to collect ransoms.” And some, Ring said, are just looking to “cause chaos.”

“Information sharing between the FBI, other elements and government that are responsible for cybersecurity infrastructure protection and school districts and school technology offices” is key. He urged schools to work together with law enforcement and if something happens to report it to the FBI and local law enforcement.