Schools remain key targets for hackers, US intelligence officials say
(CNN) -- Malicious cyber actors are continuing to wreak havoc on America's educational institutions during the deadly coronavirus pandemic, according to US intelligence officials.
In a joint cyber security bulletin issued Thursday by the FBI, DHS and a consortium that monitors nationwide online threats, officials said hackers are "targeting kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12) educational institutions, leading to ransomware attacks, the theft of data, and the disruption of distance learning services."
The bulletin noted that hackers targeting schools have disrupted the ability to conduct distance learning, and, adopting malicious techniques previously used against corporate America, have stolen and threatened to leak confidential student data unless a ransom is paid.
Officials said that reported ransomware attacks increased at the start of the 2020 school year.
"In August and September, 57% of ransomware incidents...involved K-12 students, compared to 28% of all reported ransomware incidents from January through July," the bulletin said.
In addition to the theft of student data, intelligence officials say hackers continue to disrupt remote learning systems that schools have been forced to adopt due to pandemic social distancing requirements.
"These disruptions have included verbally harassing students and teachers, displaying pornography and/or violent images, and doxing meeting attendees," according to the report.
The cyber security bulletin included numerous measures K-12 institutions should adopt in order to help prevent attacks, and recommended schools not pay ransoms for stolen information, which officials say only emboldens criminals to conduct further attacks.
As CNN has previously reported, cyber attacks against schools have caused significant disruptions for students, parents and teachers trying to adapt to increased distance learning programs. There have been many incidents reported this year, but one of the most severe occurred in Baltimore County, Maryland, where schools -- which service 115,000 students -- were forced to close for three days last month due to a ransomware attack
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