Louisiana School System Takes Precautions After Cyber Attack

The Lafayette Parish School System cut off phone and Internet services Tuesday to implement prevention measures after a series of cybersecurity attacks targeted school systems around the state.

by Katie Gagliano, The Advocate / July 31, 2019
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(TNS) — The Lafayette Parish School System cut off phone and internet services at its central office and all school sites Tuesday to implement prevention measures after a series of cybersecurity attacks targeted school systems around the state.

Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency last week after cybersecurity attacks infiltrated school districts in Sabine and Morehouse parishes and Monroe. The districts were the victims of “severe, intentional cybersecurity breaches,” the emergency declaration said.

Edwards declined to elaborate on the specifics of the attacks in the declaration but said there is a significant risk the threats are ongoing. The statewide declaration is in effect until Aug. 21, unless it’s terminated earlier.

The Tangipahoa Parish school district was also the target of a cybersecurity attack over the weekend. Superintendent Melissa Stilley said in a social media post Monday it wasn’t clear whether the attacks were related, but that “these cyber criminals target state and local government agencies, infecting their computer networks with malware or locking down the network for a ransom.”

Tangipahoa schools took a similar approach to Lafayette’s precautionary measures, disabling phone and internet services Monday.

The Lafayette district’s move comes barely two weeks before the start of the school year. It’s undetermined how long the school district’s systems will be down, but the release said notifications will be sent to families when the system is back online.

Chief administrative officer Jennifer Gardner said they’re working to get the system back up as quickly as possible and apologized for the inconvenience as parents try to contact the district or individual schools. The main office and schools are still open if parents would like to come in person, she said.

“It’s a challenge, but we’re going to rise to the occasion and get it accomplished,” she said. “We are moving forward with business as usual. Principals are still at work and in services for staff are still happening. This shut down is not going to delay the opening of school. We’re just temporarily out of our electronic resources.”

Gardner said the focus is on protecting employees’ and students’ personal data, which would be vulnerable in an attack.

She said the hack of the school system’s website about a week ago is unrelated. That website is contracted out and not housed on the school system’s server.

Middle school and high school orientations, student registrations and student placement testing were canceled for the week because of the prevention measures, according to a district news release. Gardner said those events were moved because they require the use of the district’s online systems, including printing and inputting student data.

Rescheduled dates will be announced in the coming days.

It’s possible access to the district’s transportation portal and transportation help center, scheduled to launch Thursday, could be delayed, but any additional delays will be announced in the future, she said.

Gardner said the district’s information technology department has participated in conference calls with the state and has received guidance on a multiphase plan to prevent a security breach. She declined to discuss the specifics, but said it’s being implemented in addition to the district’s existing security practices, including the use of an anti-virus program and monitoring system traffic.

Edwards’ emergency declaration activated Louisiana’s Emergency Support Function 17, a cyber incident response team. This is the first time the support function has been activated since it was introduced in 2017. The response team is part of the Louisiana Cybersecurity Commission, a statewide partnership of public, private, academic and law enforcement stakeholders with the expertise to respond to cybersecurity threats.

©2019 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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