Ransomware Attack Halts Classes in Maryland

A ransomware attack on a school district in Maryland has brought classes to a standstill, affecting more than 115,000 pupils.

Baltimore County public schools district was hit by the ransomware attack last Wednesday, before Thanksgiving, and schools are expected to remain closed for the first half of this week. However, local press is reporting that it could be weeks before the school district’s systems are back up and running. The ransomware attack and subsequent outage has particularly affected students who have been forced to study from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Offices at the district’s schools remain open for staff, but students have been told not to log in to compromised systems until the problem is resolved. So far, there has been little in the way of detail regarding the nature of the attack, with officials describing it as a "catastrophic attack on our technology system".

Ransomware is malicious software that infects a system, encrypting files before displaying a ransom message, typically demanding payment in exchange for the decryption key. If no backup of the affected data exists, and no publically available decryption tool is available, the victim has to decide whether to pay the ransom in exchange for the decryption key, or never gain access to their files again. Ransomware was already a multibillion-dollar industry, but the COVID-19 pandemic has seen cybercriminals seize on the opportunity to maximise profits.

It is more important than ever to remain vigilant when using the Internet, in particular, downloading and installing software, and opening email attachments from unknown sources. This is especially important right now, with cybercriminals exploiting people’s fears and taking advantage of the fact that much of the world is currently working online.