Another day, another pandemic-enabled scam. Criminals are now attacking K-12 schools by posing as parents who are using email to submit assignments to the teacher. The premise is that the student had trouble using the online classroom system, so the parent emailed the document directly to the teacher. There are different subject lines and attachment names used in the scam, but all include some variation of ‘assignment upload failed.’
If the recipient has macros enabled, the attachment will download executables that install ‘cryptme’ ransomware, which encrypts the files, adds ‘.encrypted’ as a file extension, and places a ransom note on the desktop.
The rapid shift to remote learning was been difficult for school districts. Most had to rapidly create or scale up their remote learning capabilities, which was especially difficult in areas where many students did not have suitable internet or equipment at home. Families who use special education services were unable to get the resources they needed for their students to meet their individual education plans. Parents struggled with their kids being at home in virtual school, and many students who get help and attention at home don’t do as well as they do when going to school every day.
School closures and delays due to ransomware
In addition to the difficulties that you expect when dealing with a massive and urgent shift to homeschool (or no school), K-12 security teams have also been dealing with cyberattacks like this Cryptme scam. Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut had to postpone the first day of classes this year due to a ransomware attack on the city network, which is shared by the school. Less than 30 miles away in Massachusetts, a ransomware attack caused Springfield Public Schools to close for two days.
These difficulties may end up causing widespread, long-term damage. A report released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development concludes the following:
The average U.S. K-12 student affected by COVID-19 school closures has a learning loss of one-third to over half a year of schooling. Assuming a one-third year learning loss, the report authors estimate that on average today’s students can expect at least 3% lower lifetime earnings. Longer learning loss makes matters worse. The situation is more severe for students from disadvantaged households.
School closures are estimated to result in a 1.5% loss in the nation’s future GDP. This is equivalent to a total economic loss of $14.2 trillion in current dollars over the next 80 years.
The pandemic has brought many challenges to educational institutions, and opportunistic criminals add more trouble. The best defense against these attacks is a multi-layered approach to cybersecurity. Barracuda offers best-in-class ransomware protection for all threat vectors, including training and awareness exercises for employees.
For more information about Barracuda ransomware protection, visit our website here.
Christine Barry is Senior Chief Blogger and Social Media Manager at Barracuda. Prior to joining Barracuda, Christine was a field engineer and project manager for K12 and SMB clients for over 15 years. She holds several technology and project management credentials, a Bachelor of Arts, and a Master of Business Administration. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan.
Connect with Christine on LinkedIn here.