One of the biggest nightmares any HR department faces is a cyberattack.  It’s an especially large threat at schools; the amount of private information schools have is enormous, and much of it belongs to children, whose data is even more sensitive than that of adults.

The most publicized recent cyberattack was in Miami-Dade county, where the first three days of school were plagued by non-functional web applications.  At least one-third of the attacks that caused the chaos were linked to a 16-year old student in the district who downloaded and ran a simple point-and-click program.

Unfortunately, ransomware-based cyberattacks have also increased 20% in the past year. Schools have been targeted in these attacks. Even more unfortunate is that these attacks are increasingly becoming more sophisticated in private industry, and schools are sure to follow. 

Rather than simply encrypting data, cybercriminals are increasingly spending weeks on an organization’s network trying to figure out how to use the data to maximize the amount of money they can extort from targets.  The most common threat is to dump the organization’s data online.  Even if the organization has a backup of unencrypted data they can restore, the attackers threaten to dump the data onto the dark web unless the target pays.  In many cases, they’ll even publicly leak a small number of files early in the negotiations to legitimize their threat.

What makes these “double-extortion attacks” especially dangerous is the speed at which schools have had to shift to online learning.  The amount of technology that was deployed in a manner of six months is staggering in many districts.  A single misconfiguration can leave a hole for a hacker, and a single process flaw can allow a social engineer into the network.  If a point-and-click program can shut down the fifth largest school district in the United States for days, it’s not too hard to imagine the damage a hacker could do with enough data access.

It’s imperative for HR teams to ensure that personnel data is protected from these attacks.  They should also be working with IT to ensure that district employees understand the importance of the security processes in place to safeguard employee and student data. 

If an employee takes calls from 100 frustrated employees or parents trying to access new web-based learning systems, they’re unlikely to suspect that the next call is a criminal trying to talk their way into administrator access to a network or cloud-based software. But these social engineering attacks are a common way to gain access to a network for nefarious purposes.  Until schools can finally begin teaching students in person, maintaining the security of these programs is just one more new challenge that administrative personnel will face in 2020.

To learn how CMTS:HR can help your agency manage HR investigations, call us at 919-747-3812 or email us at