Los Angeles School District Hit by Ransomware Attack

A cyberattack targeting the Los Angeles Unified School District caused a significant system outage in the country’s second-largest school district over Labor Day weekend.

The attack disrupted technology used for lessons and attendance and barred students and staff from accessing their emails. Though the attackers used ransomware software for the breach, the school district has yet to receive any monetary demands.

The district confirmed in a statement Monday that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are assisting local law enforcement in investigating the incident.

“Los Angeles Unified detected unusual activity in its Information Technology systems over the weekend, which after initial review, can be confirmed as an external cyberattack on our Information Technology assets. Since the identification of the incident, which is likely criminal in nature, we continue to assess the situation with law enforcement agencies.”

Authorities believe the attack may have originated internationally and identified three possible countries they have not released to the public.

Ransomware attacks are on the rise in the educational sector. The Los Angeles breach was the 50th cyberattack on educational institutions this year. The migration of school systems to virtual classrooms during the pandemic led to increasingly vulnerable cyberinfrastructures.

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Many schools are underfunded and lack the resources to retain adequate IT staff. Attacks are often planned during holidays when IT security staff is likely to be even sparser. The ideal timeline is often at the beginning of the school year when students return to school, and schools are more likely to pay demands to avoid problems that a catastrophic shutdown could cause.

The hackers did not take any Social Security or medical information and instead targeted systems containing information about private-sector contractor payments. However, the widescale breach points to the continued penetrability of schools’ cyberinfrastructures.

In January, a ransomware extortion attack on the biggest school district in Albuquerque, New Mexico, caused schools to shut down for two days. In May, a data breach in the Chicago Public School system exposed four years’ worth of records of half a million students and 60,000 employees.

One attendance counselor told the LA Times how the shutdown impacted the school’s ability to check on students.

“We do have paper attendance we will be collecting, but I would usually call home or go on home visits to find out students’ whereabouts. Unfortunately, with not having access to their information, I will not be able to find out where those students are. As it is, after the pandemic, we have been working hard to find students.”

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The district implemented a response protocol to avoid immediate widescale impact and to prevent future attacks. The district plans to invest in new IT security technology, hire personnel skilled in technology management, and train employees in cybersecurity responsibility.

Because the attack was detected Saturday, Students could return to class Tuesday morning. Students and teachers had to reset their passwords but could resume their usual schedules.


How To Avoid Cyber Criminals In Real Estate 

Now that we’re heading towards the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, the real estate industry has been able to thrive thanks to an influx in prospective buyers who are ready for a change of scenery. Real estate wire transfer scams and crimes also tend to rise when the market is doing well due to the amount of transactions occurring, so how can we avoid them? 

Wire fraud typically occurs in the real estate industry when a scammer poses as a trusted source, like a vendor, company, or family member. These individuals always request an immediate wire transfer of funds, and often make up some sort of emergency as a way to emotionally manipulate the victims out of the money. 

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According to the American Land Title Association, more than 11,600 individuals were victims of real estate wire transfer fraud in 2019. Experts claim that number has increased exponentially throughout the pandemic, and it likely will continue to get worse. 

These hackers aren’t your typical trolls who try to get you to click a link so they can access all your personal information. They follow the entire real estate process from start to finish, posing as fake real estate agents and figure heads to get their victims to feel safe in their transactions. 

These hackers are able to acquire the money once they deceitfully reroute the closing instructions for the wire transfer. At the end of the transfer, where a certified check would typically appear to make sure the transaction is legitimate, these hackers instead just complete the exchange and take the money. 

These sort of crimes have been on the rise in the past year due to the amount of real estate transactions that have now been occurring online. It’s becoming harder and harder for buyers to determine who’s a trusted agent and who could potentially scam them. 

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According to ABC News, some of the best things you can do as a prospective buyer, when it comes to determining the legitimacy of your transaction, is “read and double-check everything carefully. Always forward emails, never reply. Remember, a title company will never create urgency or urge you to move quickly.”

“Verbally verify everything through a phone number you recognize. Change your passwords regularly, never email financial information, and always report suspicious activity.”

Michael McKenna, the president and co-founder of Weichert McKenna & Vane, spoke to the media recently about what he tells his clients to look out for in order to protect themselves and their money: 

“You really want to focus on validating the wire instructions with a phone call and verifying the phone numbers and verifying the wiring information, the account numbers that you are sending and receiving monies to and from. That verification on the phone, understanding that you are talking to a voice that you’ve probably spoken to before and you trust in that voice, is very critical.”