Cybersecurity

Feds warn on ransomware threat to schools

computer hack (MARCUSZ2527/Shutterstock.com) 

Hackers have tried to sell over 100 million private records extorted from almost 100 schools and businesses as of the end of last year after escalating, sometimes violent, threats, according to an industry warning issued Jan. 31 by the FBI and the Department of Education inspector general.

Attacks by a hacker group called TheDarkOverlord, described in the warning as "a loosely affiliated group of highly trained hackers," have recently focused threatening cyberattacks on schools and even students.

As of this January, the group was responsible for 69 intrusions into schools and other businesses and the attempted sale of almost 100 million records containing personally identifiable information.

The group pilfers records from schools and threatens to release them if it is not paid a ransom. According to the notice, 200,000 records on more than 7,000 students have been released by TheDarkOverlord. Additionally, the group has threatened school shootings in text messages and emails sent directly to students.

In a recent incident, TheDarkOverlord threatened to release sensitive behavioral reports and private health data on students.

The FBI said it does not recommend schools make a ransom payment when they're threatened, as it does not guarantee they will regain access to data. Instead, the FBI wants schools targeted by the hacker group to contact law enforcement. Additionally, schools must do a better job of protecting their networks and data, it said.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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