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Louisiana Declares State Emergency After Malware Attack

The malware attacks, which were directed at school systems, affected phones and computers in at least three different communities, and the threat is still active, according to the Governor's Office.

A state of emergency has been declared in Louisiana following multiple malware attacks on school districts in several different communities, according to the Office of Gov. John Bel Edwards. 

The attacks hit school systems in the northern part of the state, Edwards said in a statement released Wednesday. Computer systems and phone lines were affected, according to statements put out by those communities.    

“The state was made aware of a malware attack on a few north Louisiana school systems and we have been coordinating a response ever since,” the governor said Wednesday. 

These attacks are described as "severe, intentional cybersecurity breaches" that "may potentially compromise other public and private entities throughout" the state, according to the emergency declaration signed by Edwards. There is also "significant risk that the emergency is ongoing" and that the malware may spread.

A newly created emergency support function relative to cybersecurity has been activated to respond to the incidents. This is a first for the state, said Christina Stephens, deputy chief of staff for communications and special projects with the Governor's Office. 

This emergency function allows a cadre of coordinating agencies to respond and assist, including the Governor's Office of Homeland Security, the Louisiana State Police and National Guard, the statewide Office of Technology Services, and academic and private-sector experts who can provide insight and advice.  

In legal terms, the declaration of the state of emergency allows the state government to send resources and assistance to the local governments that have been affected by the incident, Stephens said. 

"We are actually sending out cybersecurity experts from the state, from the National Guard, to help these school systems," she said.  

Louisiana's newly formed Cybersecurity Commission — a collective of stakeholders and officials dedicated to cybersecurity — is also coordinating the effort to get affected systems back up and running, according to the Governor's Office.

The FBI is also assisting with the investigation, Stephens said. 

The attacks affected the Sabine and Morehouse school districts, while also breaching the city of Monroe school system, according to the Governor's Office. 

The Monroe City School systems appear to have been the first to be affected. A statement on the district's website says it "experienced a disruption to its computer systems" on July 8. System connectivity is still having problems, but there is no "public safety issue," nor access to sensitive or private information, the school said. 

The Sabine Parish School System, meanwhile, was apparently struck by a virus on July 21. "The virus has disabled some of our technology systems and our central office phone system," reads a statement released Wednesday

Morehouse was struck sometime this week, the district said. "Morehouse was not affected to the extent that Monroe and Sabine were," reads a statement released Wednesday. "There will be no delays and all major systems, including payroll, are operational." 

Stephens said that while it is still unclear who is responsible for these attacks, it looks like the incidents share similarities. 

"I believe that they're very similar," Stephens said. "I don't know that we've pinpointed the source of each of them. The three attacks are similar, and they're similar to attacks that have been seen in other states." 

According to the governor's declaration, the state of emergency was declared Tuesday and will remain in effect until Aug. 21.  

Lucas Ropek is a former staff writer for Government Technology.