Russian cyberattacks on U.S. schools could cause severe disruptions, Mardock noted.
“If schools are forced to go offline and parents can’t go to work because they have to stay home to care for their children, that could have a big impact on the local economy, law enforcement, all sorts of things,” she said. “If I was a bad guy trying to mess with the U.S. and I was using schools as my tool, I would probably try to scare parents, create a lot of fear and uncertainty and distrust. You’re looking to destabilize.”
School districts across the country are trying to shore up their cybersecurity after the federal government’s warning about potential Russian cyberthreats against America’s critical infrastructure.
“Some school districts are taking extra steps to protect themselves, like restricting the ability of traffic from countries beyond the U.S. to connect to school servers,” said Doug Levin, national director of the K-12 Security Information Exchange, a nonprofit organization that tracks cyber incidents affecting public schools in all 50 states.
Districts also are increasing the monitoring of their networks for malicious traffic and trying to share intelligence with their counterparts, as well as with state and federal officials, he added.
“School districts are unlikely to be the direct targets of Russian cyberactivity, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be wrapped up in broader attacks against the U.S.,” Levin said.
Districts should be taking heed of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s “Shields Up” warning last month about the growing Russian cyberthreat to organizations, including state and local governments, Levin noted.
The federal agency recommended organizations “adopt a heightened posture” and offered guidance on steps to take, such as updating software, testing backup procedures and ensuring that manual controls are available.
In the past several years, schools have been hit hard by cybercriminals. Some districts have been victimized in ransomware attacks, which hijack computer systems and hold them hostage until the victims pay a ransom or restore the system on their own.
An attack on a school…