What to know about possible cyber attacks as Michigan students return to school

Ransomware attacks usually more common early in school year

Cyber security experts are concerned about attacks on Michigan schools ramping up early in the school year, especially with many students learning remotely.

Cyber security experts are concerned about attacks on Michigan schools ramping up early in the school year, especially with many students learning remotely.

Last year, more than 500 schools across the country were hit by ransomware, cyber security experts said. To make matters worse, the attacks usually picked up in the first few weeks of school when students, parents and teachers had their guard down.

Security experts told the Local 4 Defenders that ransomware attacks are on the rise, targeting schools and colleges across the nation. Your home laptop could also be targeted.

As Michigan students return to school in the next few weeks, some will be handed Chrome books and others will use their own laptops. All of them need to be on the lookout for cyber attacks.

“There are two fronts where the attacks are going to happen,” said Randy Watkins, chief technology officer for Critical Start. “One is toward the students, and the other is toward the school.”

Critical Start is a cyber security company. Watkins said he continues to see an increase in ransomware, especially when schools first start back up.

“Attackers are going to make a lot of fake sites to distribute malware,” Watkins said. “Sometimes it’s an attacker that is trying to steal information for identity theft. It just depends on the motivation of the attacker.”

Parents should make sure children are looking at reputable web sources and not just anything that comes up on Google.

“Now we are looking at school starting and they are starting to come around with remote registration links and URLs,” Watkins said. “They are coming around with a syllabus that looks like a syllabus attachment, but it is actually a piece of malware. If you click on that syllabus, it infects your machine.”

Experts said parents should also reach out to schools and ask what they’re going to protect their students’ information.

“The school bears the brunt of the responsibility for implementing controls to ensure the safety of the students’ information,” Watkins said.

Another attack target on the rise is parents, he said.

“Attackers targeting the parents of students by sending them fake report cards that are really just pieces of malicious software,” Watkins said.

If a home computer is compromised, there are fewer options.

“With a lot of the ransomware that is going around, that is where an attacker will encrypt your files and demand money for it,” Watkins said. “Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, the only remedy is to pay the ransom.

“Everyone should have a properly patched computer. When Windows or Microsoft releases a patch, you are going to apply those.”

You should also maintain some level of antivirus on your machines to prevent malicious items from installing.

Parents are well within their rights to ask if their school has an instant response program and whether parents will be notified if the school computers are attacked.

About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter.

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.