Following death-threats anonymously texted to parents of school children, the US Department of Education has warned teachers, parents, and K-12 education staff that hackers are targeting schools.
“We are writing to let you know of a new threat, where the criminals are seeking to extort money from school districts and other educational institutions on the threat of releasing sensitive data from student records,” Tiina Rodrigue, Senior Advisor for Cybersecurity at Federal Student Aid, an office of the US Department of Education, wrote in an alert, as reported by CNN.
Although it is unclear why the group has begun targeting schools, the US Department of Education has reassured people that the threats are only aggravating in nature and there is no imminent risk perceived.
In September, parents from schools in Montana received frightening messages regarding their children’s’ safety.
One text claimed: “I’m going to kill some kids at your son’s high school”.
Other messages included personal information about the children, CNN reports.
Johnston Schools Superintendent Corey Lunn decided to close all schools the following day. Lunn told The Des Moines Register that it was a difficult call to make:
“This is a tough decision. It’s not something that we take lightly, but at the end of the day it’s our first priority to keep students and staff safe, and I believe we did that today.”
The Dark Overlord revealed they were behind the attack in the following tweet.
Law enforcement officials believe the attackers are located outside the US, and the group are making empty threats.
“We feel this is important to allow our community to understand that the threats were not real, and were simply a tactic used by the cyber extortionists to facilitate their demand for money,” explained the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office through Facebook post last month.
The hacking group demanded a ransom of US$150,000 in bitcoin to destroy the stolen private data.
They told The Daily Beast: “We’re escalating the intensity of our strategy in response to the FBI’s persistence in persuading clients away from us.”
Previously, the hacker group has attempted to extort Netflix, after hacking their network and leaking new episodes of “Orange is the New Black”.
The group also published an alleged student directory from Johnston Community School District.
Vulnerable to fraud
Mary Kavaney, the chief operating officer of the Global Cyber Alliance, noted that not only does low cybersecurity endanger safety, it also makes data vulnerable to fraud.
“If bad actors can access student [personal data], that information can be exploited for the purpose of fraud and committing crimes for years before it is detected,” Kavaney says.
“It’s often only upon application for a job, or for financial aid to attend college, that students find out that their social security number has been used fraudulently – they may have poor credit due to false applications against their history, or worse, find that crime has been committed in their name.”
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