Data Breaches are a Concern for Every K-12 Parent
On March 7th, 2021, the Broward County Public School System, the sixth-largest K-12 district in the United States, emailed parents notifying them that "an internet outage" would disrupt online learning for 271,517 students enrolled in 327 different schools. By March 27th, 2021, the truth of what had occurred to disrupt learning came to light. Databreaches.net was the first organization to detail that the Broward Public School System had been rocked by a ransomware attack requesting a $40 million fee to secure district data and prevent it from being compromised in a data breach. Due to school administrators choosing not to pay the ransom fee demanded, over 26,000 sensitive records were leaked and published online. That allowed hackers worldwide to gain access to sensitive information relating to student health, educational progress, addresses, telephone numbers, and many other types of records. It is essential to note that the official recommendation of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) regarding countering ransomware attacks is not paying out ransoms because doing so does not guarantee that a criminal organization will follow through and not leak sensitive data online. Rather than being an outlier, this incident is more representative of the new normal American school districts are facing in recent years. Data breaches are a national emergency that every K-12 parent, educator, and administrator needs to take seriously, given the dramatic uptick in cyber-attacks against schools that have been analyzed extensively by leading cybersecurity research organizations in recent years. Data breaches targeting schools are a particularly heinous type of crime because of the immense dangers they pose to students, teachers, administrators, families, and the vital educational resources K-12 schools need to survive and thrive. In 2021, the global cost of data breaches has been projected to reach as high as $6 trillion. This amount is especially staggering when put in the context that the average data breach costs roughly $3.86 million to address and takes up to 280 days to contain, according to leading research conducted by IBM. K-12 school systems in the United States are heavily burdened because of the ongoing effects of the 2020 coronavirus, subsequent lockdowns, and immense digital transformation initiatives that have come about, placing online and remote learning at the center of many district's current strategies for offering educational instruction. Data breaches affecting schools victimize nearly every type of stakeholder connected to communities. That alone should be a dramatic wake-up call and rallying point for parents, teachers, students, and administrators. This article outlines the massive national security threat data breaches are posing against schools and provides parents with the insight they need to ensure their school district is doing everything in its power to reduce vulnerabilities and promote greater cybersecurity.