Ransomware is a topic of great interest in 2021 because it has a significant impact on hospitals and critical infrastructure. A recent report by NBC News is one of the most heartbreaking stories about the devastating effects hackers can have. It details how school data breaches can expose students' most sensitive information to the internet. Anyone who has the ability to find it and is willing pay can access it. This story is well worth reading for the many details and edge cases that it examines.
According to NBCs report, a school district had an Excel spreadsheet called Basic student information uploaded to the dark internet after it refused to pay a ransom. Kevin Collier, the article's author, breaks down the shocking details it contains.
It includes students' names and entry for their race, gender, date of birth, Social Security number, and gender. If they are an immigrant or homeless, they will also be marked as economically disadvantaged, and possibly dyslexic.
The school was aware of the attack and informed parents, making it one of the best possible scenarios. Although insurance covers staff against identity theft, it is not clear if that protection extends to students. In some other cases, schools were unaware that there was a problem when NBC News asked them about their leaks.
One of the most obvious problems is identity theft and credit card fraud
It is difficult to understand how this could impact a student's social life, especially if their medical information, grades, and status as a free or reduced-price lunch beneficiary were leaked online. It is easier to grasp the effects of their SSNs, names, and birthdays being sold to unscrupulous individuals. NBC shares the story of a student whose information was used to obtain a car loan and credit card.
I have seen firsthand the pain that comes with having your credit destroyed before you graduate high school. I would not wish this on anyone. Eva Velasquez, from the Identity Theft Resource Center tells parents to lock down their children's credit in order to prevent identity theft. Parents have enough worries about their children learning remotely, or how to get their kids to school. They also worry that they might catch COVID. It is difficult to believe that parents should be the privacy and data security experts that schools are lacking.
It could be simpler to protect kids' data than it is done
Expert at a non-profit that protects schools IT systems said to NBC that it was a serious responsibility for schools to keep that data safe. However, this is difficult given the budget constraints that many schools are working within.
It is sad that students have to worry about the school using FBI-grade technology to steal their personal data, and hackers stealing information from their school and selling it off to criminals. It may seem difficult to consider, but it is even harder to advocate for change if you don't know the facts. Reports like NBC are essential and well worth the effort.