La. school districts take cybersecurity precautions amid ransomware threat


(LOCAL 33) (FOX 44) — After ransomware attacks on schools prompted Louisiana’s first ever cyber emergency last week, districts across the state are doing what they can to keep student information safe.

The extra emphasis on security comes just days before many Louisiana school districts start the 2019-20 school year.

“I do not think the timing of these attacks is just coincidence,” said Carlos Williams, technology director at Livingston Parish Public Schools, where some 26,000 students will start the academic year Aug. 9.

In recent weeks, public schools in Sabine, Morehouse, Ouachita and Tangipahoa parishes have encountered ransomware. The software often slides into computer networks through links and email attachments. When opened, it locks victims out of data unless money is paid. State education officials are urging all school districts to back up their records and reboot their systems for precaution.

“This is probably a bigger step than we’ve ever taken before,” Williams said. “Due to our environment being so interconnected now, it has a lot to do with why our district should be taking these steps.”

Livingston school leaders say a malware attack last year led them to get new security software. Other districts in the Baton Rouge area say their school records are backed up, with protective walls up to date. Such guards are ever important, cyber experts say, amid questions of when hackers will strike again.

Besides the protections schools are taking, a state-run cybersecurity task force will continue meeting a few times a week, as Gov. John Bel Edwards looks to keep a cyber state of emergency in place through the near future.

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