Cyberattacks via malware from the Russian Federation inactivated hundreds of Kenosha Unified laptops and tablets a year ago.
To combat it and other attacks, the district is revising technology security policies for student and staff using devices to access the Internet.
The revisions — which center on security in the creation of student accounts for accessing online educational materials — emphasize employee responsibility in protecting and updating electronic credentials.
The changes were initially approved by the School Board Tuesday night. The policy is expected to be considered again and voted on at next month’s board meeting
Kris Keckler, the district’s executive director of information and accountability, said the malware affected Tremper High School and Indian Trail High School and Academy, closing down the computer labs and impacting thousands of “instructional devices.”
“Basically, it just locked them up,” he said following the meeting. “We didn’t lose confidential data … it just basically did what it was intended to do and locked them up.”
Keckler said that about 200 to 300 devices used throughout the district were older and more susceptible to attacks.
“Indian Trail was hit the hardest and we were able to isolate it there,” he said.
The devices have since been replaced.
Throughout the district, Unified information technology specialists support about 2,800 devices that include laptops and tablets, such as Chromebooks and iPads.
Teachers can create accounts for students
Keckler said that among the revisions to the student and staff technology acceptable use policy is making parents aware that teachers can create an account for the students to access educational materials online.
“As teachers utilize more and more online resources … the federal government allows them to act as a pseudo guardian for that child to create an account.”
“And the vast majority of the times they utilize the district-provided emails for the students and just verify that,” he said. “Part of that is promoting the appropriate use so that students become comfortable interacting online.”
As a result, throughout the year, the district will be promoting cyber security with staff training and additional publications to insure safety on the internet.
Increasing number of online attacks
According to Keckler, the need for the policy revisions also comes as school districts have become the target of an increasing number of “malicious attempts to either hold student information hostage or staff information hostage,” or through phishing attempts.
“You’re seeing more and more data breaches toward educational institutions,” he said. “Having staff that are well-informed of appropriate use and what their limitations and expectations are, is one of those factors.”
School districts have received warnings from the federal government about fraudulent activity over Medicaid as it relates to student information, with documented cases that have affected students applying for student loans or financial aid.
Recently, phishing scams have also affected local post-secondary institutions, such as the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, which was defrauded of more than $300,000 involving altered vendor accounts. No student or employee accounts were compromised.
Phishing scams mimic real accounts
In the past year, the district has also experienced its share of phishing and “spear phishing”, scams that come from known or “trusted” senders but are actually fake email accounts that resemble that of School Board members, the superintendent, some administrators and school principals have circulated through the system.
“It’s unfortunate when other people start to act on this and that causes time and energy to try and recover some of those,” he said.
Keckler said while phishing has hit Unified, none of the breaches have resulted in loss of monetary funds from compromised accounts.
“What I can tell you is that human error has plagued Kenosha Unified. Nothing major and nothing that we weren’t able to recoup. Nobody has lost any of their paychecks, but there’s time and effort to thwart these things,” he said.
Keckler said that the district has also notified the FBI’s cybersecurity division of breaches and has worked with federal authorities on a couple of cases involving prosecution of cyber-criminals.