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Cyber attack takes entire school district offline in the United States

Over 30,000 students have been told that classes are cancelled for most of this week, following a cyber attack in the US state of Iowa.

user icon David Hollingworth
Wed, 11 Jan 2023
Cyber attack takes entire school district offline in the United States
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Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS) noted suspicious activity on its networks early on Monday morning this week, reporting that various network-related services as well as email and telephones were being affected. That was the situation at 11am on Monday but matters soon escalated.

By 4:30pm on that day, the district made the decision to cancel school for Tuesday, though offices remained open and non-classroom-based activities such as sports were still going ahead. The district’s internet services were taken offline completely to help assess the extent of what was happening.

“Because many technology tools that support both classroom learning as well as the management and operation of the school district are not available at this time, the prudent decision is to close the district for the day,” the DMPS noted in its update at the time.

At 10:45pm on Tuesday the next morning, the incident was still being investigated, and systems were still offline and schools were closed.

“Our goals right now are to remove any and all threats from our systems, make sure all devices are clean, and restore our full functionality,” the DMPS said in that morning’s update.

By 3:30pm that day, it was noted that “our technology teams and external cyber security partners” were still working away at the problem, and that school on Wednesday was also cancelled, with staff working remotely where possible, and the district’s main website — dmschools.org finally restored.

“The network outage has impacted all areas of the school district, not only numerous teaching and learning functions but also systems relating to transportation, building operations, health and safety, food and nutrition, finance, communications and more,” the afternoon update read.

The latest update, made at 8pm on Tuesday evening US time, announced “significant progress” in getting systems back online, and that schools would reopen on Thursday.

As well as around 31,000 students, the DMPS district also employs more than 5,000 teachers and other staff.

The FBI warned in September 2022 that ransomware operators were targeting schools in the United States.

According to US non-profit K12 Security Information eXchange (K12 SIX), there have been more than 1,300 publicly reported cyber attacks directed at schools since 2016.

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