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US Schools Faced Record Number of Security Incidents in 2020

The K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center reports an 18% increase in security incidents as schools moved classes online.

Schools across the United States were hit with a record-breaking number of security incidents in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic forced classes to move online, researchers report.

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The K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center recorded 408 publicly disclosed security incidents last year, an increase of 18% from 2019 and the highest number since it began tracking incidents in 2016. These include student and staff data breaches, ransomware and other malware attacks, phishing campaigns and social engineering scams, and denial-of-service (DoS) attacks. 

This equated to a rate of at least two incidents per school, per day, over the course of last year.

Data breaches and leaks were the most reported type of incident (36%), followed by ransomware (12%), DoS (5%), and phishing (2%). Most (45%) fall under the umbrella of "other," including new attacks that surfaced in the second quarter as COVID-19 began to rise and schools moved online.

While the first quarter of 2020 marked a continuation of patterns seen in the year prior, the second quarter "marked a sharp departure from the prevailing trend line." 

During this time, researchers note a new class of cyberthreats that surpassed others: class invasion, in which unauthorized people disrupt online classes with hate speech, shocking sounds, and threats of violent; meeting invasion, which is the same tactic but aimed at public school board and community meetings; and email invasion, the compromise of a school district email system for bulk-sharing disturbing images or videos, hate speech, or violent threats.

This new class of cyberthreats "served to magify the impact" of other security incidents, including DoS attacks and ransomware, researchers report. In many cases, this led districts that experienced incidents to cancel classes for up to a week or more.

Read the full report for more details.

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Kelly Jackson Higgins 2, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading