Cyber attackers are targeting your child’s school and it’s costing us millions

FOX Files

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – If you have a website, you are at risk. You don’t have to click on a malicious link to let the criminal inside. Just like your home, cybercriminals are looking for unlocked windows, a weak door, or that key you’ve hidden under a rock.

“It is what keeps people in my position up at night,” Jason Rooks said. He’s Parkway School District’s Chief Information Officer.

“It’s not if you get attacked – it’s when you get attacked,” he said.

Rooks says school districts are now one of the biggest targets.

“In the past month, two school districts in the state of Missouri have had to close multiple days due to ransomware attacks,” he said.

The Affton School District was recently hit with ransomware. Cybercriminals said they had personal information and demanded money for its return. Affton said it didn’t pay, but Maryville University Associate Professor of Cybersecurity Brian Gant says some districts do.

“One in four school districts is experiencing ransomware currently. Right now, K-12, we’re talking about millions and millions of dollars being lost,” he said.

Gant teaches student how to defend our computer systems. A video wall in their cyber fusion center shows active attacks being stopped—live—in real time. Gant says we don’t have enough experts to stop the attacks.

“The gap that we’ve been experiencing is vast,” he said. “In 2023, they’re expecting it to be a million-job gap between those with the skills necessary to fill it, and higher education is one of those vehicles in which we can get people into the pipeline to fill those gaps.”

Student Hunter Myles already has a job lined up where he will fight to defend our virtual borders.

“Nothing is secure. No company is safe,” he said. “Major national government agencies were attacked. National corporations with billions of dollars in security funding were attacked. It always takes one open door for these attackers to get in.”

In class, he’s working with school districts like Parkway to tighten their security.

“And the great thing is they don’t charge school districts for these services,” Rooks said. “We’ve gotten quotes for other external vulnerability assessments that have gone upwards of $30,000.”

Rooks talked about how Maryville helps assess, saying, “They’re outside of our environment trying to poke holes and doing what the attacker would do to try to get into our district.”

Maryville found no major security gaps at parkway, but did find places for the district to secure.

“They’re finding where we hide our keys – under the rock in the garden, and suggesting, well, here’s a better place where you can hide it,” Rooks said.

Maryville’s Cyber Fusion Center Director Sean Kilfoy says their checks of other districts and businesses find major problems.

“Hundreds of different vulnerabilities,” he said.

One possible weakness for web sites are the boxes where you type your username and password. That can be a way inside for criminals. They might type a hacking code in the boxes to get everyone’s username and password.

“I could go in and delete all of those usernames and passwords and make my own or I could have everybody’s credentials, or both and I could sell that,” Kilfoy said. “The possibilities are endless for attackers. So, we fix that. You should have a code in your database that says reject that kind of input.”

Most schools are now carrying cyber insurance to save the millions an attack might cost. The deductibles on those polices are often tens of thousands.

The cities of Alton, Illinois and Berkeley, Missouri were both recently attacked with ransomware and shut down for days. Both cities tell me they did not pay ransoms and that they got help from their cyber insurance policies. Berkeley canceled their last court night because of an attack.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

About the FOX Files

The Fox Files are groundbreaking investigations you won’t see anywhere else. The series is well known for breaking the Pam Hupp story nationally. The reports that led to the exoneration of Russ Faria. But, it is far from the only time in which our investigations led to overturned convictions and freedom for the wrongfully accused. The Fox Files investigations do not fit into just one category, other than the fact our reports shine a light on issues and corruption in ways you won’t see anywhere else.

You won’t know what to expect as our reports often take twists that surprise even Fox Files investigator Chris Hayes.

“You never know where the truth will lead and you have to keep searching for it, even when you think you might be done,” Hayes said.

From getting arrested for trying to cover a public meeting, to getting law enforcement involved in his report about a daycare fight club, the Fox Files has been at the forefront of breaking news investigations in the St. Louis area.

It doesn’t stop just in St. Louis. The Pam Hupp/Russ Faria story took him to Lincoln County. Fox 2 was the first to report, nationally, on the synthetic drug epidemic when it began in St. Charles County, MO. In St. Louis County, our Fox Files reporting led to the dismantling of some police departments, including the departments of Uplands Park and Jennings. And in the City of St. Louis, our investigations led to swift government actions, such as our report that led to the Governor’s ordered shut down of a daycare.

Our reporting in St. Louis also led to former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens’ exclusive Fox Files interviews involving his court fight to oust the chief prosecutor while attempting to prove that political corruption led to an illegal overturning of a state election.

“It’s not always bad news,” Hayes said about a recent victory for a restaurant in his coverage of a St. Clair County Illinois issue. A Fox Files report, exposing a health department’s mistake over the COVID-19 pandemic, led to an overturning of a decision, allowing the business to open for limited inside dining.

Another investigation took us to Madison County, where prosecutors praised Fox 2’s coverage while shutting down an illegal synthetic drug business – and to Monroe County, where we uncovered key evidence in the Chris Coleman murder trial.

Even the national media, continues reaching out to local affiliate Fox 2 KTVI and the Fox Files, for its work on cases that are important to St. Louis. When you see a network television’s coverage of St. Louis, you’ll often see that they gathered information that was first uncovered right here.

About FOX 2 News

FOX 2 and KPLR 11 in St. Louis cover the news in Missouri and Illinois. There are over 68 hours of live news and local programming on-air each week. Our website and live video streams operate 24/7. Download our apps for alerts and follow us on social media for updates in your feed.

President Harry Truman said: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” That spirit is alive and well at Fox 2. Our teamwork is on display each and every day.

Our news slogan is: “Coverage You Can Count On.” We quite frankly are too busy to worry about who gets the credit. Our main concern is serving the viewer.

We go where the stories take us. Whether it be Washington, D.C when a Belleville man opened fire during a congressional baseball game practice or to Puerto Rico where local Ameren crews restored power after more than 5 months in the dark.

Coverage You Can Count On means “Waking up your Day” with our top-rated morning show. From 4:00 am-10:00 am we are leading the way with breaking news. But our early morning crew also knows how to have some fun! Our strong commitment to the communities we serve is highlighted with our Friday neighborhood shows.

Our investigative unit consists of three reporters. Elliott Davis focuses on government waste, Chris Hayes is our investigative reporter, and Mike Colombo is our consumer reporter. They work in unison with the news department by sharing resources and ideas.

We continue to cover breaking news aggressively and relied on our seasoned journalists to make a difference with the stories we covered. The shooting of Arnold Police Officer Ryan O’Connor is just one example of that. Jasmine Huda was the only reporter who had exclusive access to the O’Connor family during his amazing rehabilitation in Colorado.

Last, but certainly not least, FOX 2 and KPLR 11 are committed to covering local politics. We host debates among candidates and have the most extensive presidential election coverage. Our commitment to politics isn’t just during an election year. We produce two political shows that air every weekend.


Latest News

More News