Baltimore County Public Schools closed on Wednesday, November 25, due to a ransomware attack that caused “systemic interruptions to network information systems,” according to the district.
BCPS can now confirm we were the victim of a Ransomeware attack that caused systemic interruption to network information systems. Our BCPS technology team is working to address the situation & we will continue to provide updates as available. For now, please don’t use BCPS device
— Baltimore County Public Schools (@BaltCoPS) November 25, 2020
The district said its technology team is working to address the attack. Along with closing schools, the district website was also offline on Wednesday morning.
It put other public offices on alert.
“We do not have any reason to believe that Baltimore County Government systems have been compromised, but the County’s Information Technology team is closely inspecting our network and all devices out of an abundance of caution, and has put in place additional security measures,” Baltimore County government officials said in a statement.
Baltimore City Public Schools, which is a separate district, is also taking precautions as a result of the attack. City schools remain open, and officials recommend students only use district-issued laptops or devices. However, students without city-issued devices were granted an excused absence.
City Schools is aware of computer network challenges today in Baltimore County schools. Students participating in virtual learning should only use City Schools-issued laptops or devices. Students without access to a City Schools-issued device will be granted an excused absence.
— Baltimore City Public Schools (@BaltCitySchools) November 25, 2020
Rather than sending students home, the closure put an end to distance learning for the day. The attack comes at a time when students are learning virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic, putting additional importance on digital access for learning. Baltimore County Public Schools have yet to transition back to in-person learning, as officials opted not to send students back this month amid a rise in cases.
Though ransomware attacks can have different origins and perpetrators, they share a basic common approach: Access to systems is encrypted, blocking access by users. An attacker offers to accept payment (often in Bitcoin) in exchange for the key to free up access. Cybersecurity experts have discussed how there has generally been increased risk of attacks during the pandemic.
Ransomware attacks have infected a range of orgs in recent years, including business, healthcare and government. This is the second ransomware attack that froze up access to systems at a large public institution in the Baltimore region over the last two years. In May 2019, the City of Baltimore faced an attack that took key systems offline.
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation. -30-