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Prime Targets: Ransomeware attack should make us wary

As Wood County Schools continues to go school-by-school, computer-by-computer checking and repairing machines affected by a ransomware attack last week, local residents are getting a first-hand look at the way terrorists and criminals have shifted tactics in recent years.

In fact, more than 500 school systems across the country have been hit by ransomware attacks so far this year. According to the website “School News Network,” schools are a prime target.

“What you guys [school systems] hold is the ‘creme de la creme,’ which is records,” said Alex Brown with accounting and business advisory firm Plante Moran, during a training event in Michigan covered by “School News Network.”

Names, birthdays, addresses, social security numbers — and not much else, because the records belong to children — provide the perfect blank slate on which a false identity can be built. Add to that treasure trove the bonus of being able to cripple a government network (in the case of Wood County, state networks were immediately disconnected so as not to spread the effects of the attack), and you’ve got a nasty one-two punch.

Wood County officials were right to quickly accept outside help and meticulously work through recovery and defense.

“It’s a slow and steady process,” said Superintendent Will Hosaflook. “You can’t risk bringing potentially infected computers online.”

Bad guys use every weapon at their disposal to wreak havoc, and they are creative. They could be right next door or on the other side of the planet, and with a few keystrokes wipe out the computer and phone systems of an entire school district. Even if that still seems like a soft target to you, remember it might be just a practice run for something that does more damage.

Wood County is beefing up its own cybersecurity efforts, now. But the rest of us need to become a little more tech savvy — and make sure our own computers are protected as best we can.

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