School & District Management

Cyber Attacks on Schools Tripled in 2019, Report Finds

By Alyson Klein — March 02, 2020 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The frequency and severity of K-12 cyber-attacks is dramatically on the rise, according to a report released recently by the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center.

During calendar year 2019, the center cataloged 348 publicly-disclosed school cyber incidents. That includes malware outbreaks, phishing attacks, denial of service attacks, and more. That’s more than three times the number of similar incidents during 2018.

So why the uptick? The report suggests that it’s due partly to schools’ greater reliance on technology for everything from teaching and learning to day-to-day operations.

Schools were most likely to experience data breaches and other unauthorized disclosures. In fact, these made up 60 percent of all catalogued incidents. Most of these breaches included data about school staff, which can lead to identity theft and fraud.

About half of the data breaches were due to actions of school vendors, regional service agencies, non-profits, or state departments of education. Another 9 percent were thanks to school staff or students. (The report doesn’t delve into how the others originated.)

The second most prevalent type of attack: Malware, which accounts for 28 percent of incidents, or roughly double the number of 2018. Malware, which can cause serious outages, prompted individual schools in Alabama, Arizona, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio to close, according to the report.

Another 8 percent of attacks involved “phishing” schemes. Those can happen when a hacker sends a mass email to staff, pretending to be a district official and asking, for instance, for help in purchasing gift cards. But emailers can also go after employee payroll information, in order to steal employees’ identity and tax information.

Schools that experienced cyber attacks in 2019 were more likely to be in densely-populated areas (like suburbs and cities) and have big student populations. Rural schools, particularly in the central U.S., were less likely to experience attacks. Bigger districts have more technology and more people using it, therefore more vulnerability. And rural districts may be less likely to report attacks.

The report suggests that districts can protec themselves by investing in greater IT security capacity, particularly through training. It also recommends that federal and state governments enact regulations for basic rules to keep data safe and secure, also known as “cyber hygiene,” invest in cyber security tools specific to K-12, and boost cyber security information sharing and research.

Images: Getty, K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center


Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Some Teachers Won't Get Vaccinated, Even With a Mandate. What Should Schools Do About It?
Vaccine requirements for teachers are gaining traction, but the logistics of upholding them are complicated.
9 min read
Illustration of a vaccine, medical equipment, a clock and a calendar with a date marked in red.
iStock/Getty
School & District Management A Vaccine for Kids Is Coming. 6 Tips for Administering the Shot in Your School
Start planning now, get help, and build enthusiasm. It's harder than it looks.
11 min read
Cole Rodriguez, a 15-year-old student at Topeka West, gets a COVID-19 vaccine Monday, Aug. 9, 2021 at Topeka High School's vaccine clinic.
Cole Rodriguez, a 15-year-old student, gets a COVID-19 vaccine at Topeka High School's vaccine clinic.
Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP
School & District Management Letter to the Editor School Mask Mandates: Pandemic, ‘Panicdemic,’ or Personal?
"A pandemic is based on facts. A 'panicdemic' is based on fears. Today, we have both," writes a professor.
1 min read
School & District Management How 'Vaccine Discrimination' Laws Make It Harder for Schools to Limit COVID Spread
In Montana and Ohio, the unvaccinated are a protected class, making it tough to track and contain outbreaks, school leaders say.
4 min read
Principal and District Superintendent Bonnie Lower takes the temperature of a student at Willow Creek School as the school reopened, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Willow Creek, Mont.
Bonnie Lower, a principal and district superintendent in Willow Creek, Mont., checks the temperature of a student as Willow Creek School reopened for in-person instruction in the spring.
Ryan Berry/Bozeman Daily Chronicle via AP