On January 29, 2024, several schools in the Freehold Township School District in New Jersey were forced to close due to a cybersecurity incident, leaving thousands of students unable to attend classes. Superintendent Neal Dickstein alerted families late Sunday night that the entire district, including early childhood learning centers, elementary schools, and middle schools, would be closed due to a technical issue related to a cybersecurity incident. The district has since hired outside IT expert consultants to assess and remedy the situation.
While specific details about the incident were limited, the impact on the district’s network environment remained unclear. This has led to concerns about the potential rise in cyberattacks against educational institutions in the United States, particularly ransomware attacks.
Schools and academic institutions have long been targeted by criminal hackers, with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the FBI issuing an alert in 2020 warning that educational institutions, especially K-12 schools, were increasingly vulnerable. These attacks can result in data theft, ransomware, and the disruption of distance-learning services.
Recognizing these vulnerabilities, the federal government announced initiatives to combat ransomware attacks in K-12 schools, including the launch of a new government cybersecurity council and plans to train 300 K-12 entities. Despite these efforts, reports indicate a significant surge in ransomware attacks targeting K-12 schools in the U.S., with the education sector facing a 70% increase in attacks throughout 2023, according to security research firm Malwarebytes Labs.
In light of the incident affecting the Freehold Township School District, Michael Amoroso, president of the Freehold Township Board of Education, acknowledged that an ongoing investigation was underway to address the cybersecurity issue. He assured the public that an announcement would be made regarding the reopening of the schools once the situation was resolved.
The incident in New Jersey serves as a reminder of the growing threat that cyberattacks pose to educational institutions across the country, prompting a need for increased cybersecurity measures and vigilance to protect students, teachers, and staff.
Original Post URL: https://www.govinfosecurity.com/cybersecurity-incident-shuts-down-new-jersey-schools-a-24211