Apr 12, 2021 2 mins, 16 secs
When she's not teaching special education classes at Buffalo Public Schools, she and her husband are usually making sure their three kids are attending their remote classes.

So it hit hard when hackers struck the school of her youngest daughter in early March, the Friday before she was supposed to finally return to in-person learning twice a week.

The hackers infected Buffalo’s schools with malicious code that spidered through their networks, freezing computers and making it impossible for teachers to reach their students who were working remotely because of the pandemic.

A single infection of a school district can affect dozens or hundreds of schools: Buffalo counts 63 individual schools and learning systems. .

In public statements, Buffalo Public Schools referred to what happened broadly as a “cybersecurity attack.” But it wasn’t a mindless act of internet vandalism.

Buffalo had become the latest in a long spree of ransomware attacks, a type of hack where malicious software locks as many related computers as possible, rendering files inaccessible in an attempt to coerce victims to pay up.

Cybercriminals have recently ramped up attacks against American public school districts, with at least 44 of them this school year alone, according to a count by Allan Liska, a ransomware analyst at the cybersecurity company Recorded Future.

The FBI issued a warning in mid-March that ransomware attacks against schools were spiking, but the U.S.

Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, the federal agencies that respond to ransomware victims, officially don’t recommend paying a ransom to hackers, both because doing so can encourage them to target more victims and there’s no guarantee that the hackers will honor the agreement.

But sometimes a school will try to pay, only to find it impossible to negotiate with the hackers.

In March, after negotiations broke down between one gang and Broward County, Florida, school system — one of the largest school districts in the country, with more than 260,000 students — the hackers published the transcript of their conversation on their website.

The conversation shows the gang initially asked for $40 million in ransom, to the school official’s bafflement.

Even when a school catches the attack early and chooses to not pay the hackers, the costs can be severe, as was the case when the Affton, Missouri, school district was hit in February.

Huntsville City Schools in Alabama, which allows parents to choose whether their kids go to in-person classes or learn remotely through the Huntsville Virtual Academy, sent everyone home on Monday, Nov

Brooke Abney-Stratton, a mother to an elementary school student and a middle school student in the district, saw her mother hospitalized with Covid-19 in July and didn’t hesitate to enroll her kids in HVA at the beginning of the school year

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