Riverhead School District targeted in cyber attack

The Riverhead Central School District was the target of an apparent cyber attack Friday.

District officials first alerted parents to “outages” with internet and email resources around 9 a.m. and asked them to use the phone if they needed to contact the school district.

In an update posted to social media shortly after 2 p.m., the district said that a preliminary investigation revealed that the outage may have stemmed from a cyber breach and that they continue to experience outages.

“At this time, it is unclear to what extent this has impacted our district, but please know we are working diligently to investigate,” officials said in a statement. “We do not believe this breach had any impact on our student management systems, as that data is housed off campus.”

District officials said they contacted local police and Homeland Security to report the incident, which is still under investigation. Through a spokesperson, officials also said they can’t yet confirm or deny that this was a ransomware attack.

In ransomware attacks, school computer systems are slowed down or rendered inaccessible as ransomware actors steal or threaten to leak confidential data to the public unless paid a ransom to unlock the system.

Last December, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center issued a joint report addressing the rise of cyber attacks on schools, including ransomware attacks and data theft that disrupted distance learning amid the pandemic.

“Cyber actors likely view schools as targets of opportunity, and these types of attacks are expected to continue through the 2020/2021 academic year,” the report said.

Experts said that schools have become ripe targets for cyber crimes since they are data-rich with information about students and staff, which can be used for identity theft. The reliance on technology during the pandemic has also likely contributed to gaps in cybersecurity, leaving schools vulnerable.

District officials were not available to comment beyond a statement sent through a public relations firm but assured further updates as more information becomes available.

Due to ongoing outages, those who need to contact schools are urged to do so via phone until further notice.