SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A pair of recent cyber-attacks on Southern California school districts has shown a new front in the war against computer criminals. Hackers have started to target schools and school districts for ransomware attacks.
"What they're looking for, ultimately, is money," says Kierk Sanderlin, the Head of Engineering for Check Point, a cyber-security firm.
Sanderlin says the hackers will spend months using malware and fishing campaigns to gain access to computer systems. Then, when the time is right, they'll launch the ransomware attack, shutting down the system and demanding a ransom to restore access.
"They want to impact the environment in such a negative way, at such a critical time, that you will be willing to pay," says Sanderlin.
Over the weekend, the San Bernardino School District had its servers shut down by a ransomware attack. And in August, San Dieguito Schools lost the ability for parents to register their students for classes because of an attack.
Sanderlin says there have been 50 similar attacks on schools throughout the country in 2019.
Sanderlin says the criminals typically want to make money from the ransom. But, he warns they can also use their access to the systems to steal the personal information of students, teachers and families.
If they do that, Sanderlin says they can sell the information on the dark web, making people vulnerable to identity theft.
"All of that intellectual property, identification for student records, social security numbers, anything they can mine and sell on the dark web, they're going to do that," he says.
School districts have become easy targets because many of them don't upgrade their cyber security frequently enough. Sanderlin compares it to fighting a modern war with antique weapons.
"We have to start treating cyber-security as something that's far more important than we have in the past," he says. "We can't be an ostrich sticking our head in the ground anymore. We have to realize this is important and do it the right way."
He says parents need to become advocates for better cyber security, urging districts to invest in upgrades to protect their networks. He also advises people to use dark-web monitoring services. Those regularly scan the dark web to see if your personal information is for sale.
Both San Bernardino and San Dieguito say their students' information was not stolen in the recent attacks. They're working with police to investigate the issue.