Louisiana declares state emergency after cyberattacks on school districts

Louisiana declares state emergency after cyberattacks on school districts
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Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) declared a state-wide emergency this week following cyberattacks on several school districts.

The declaration comes after three local school districts were hit by what local media have described as ransomware attacks, where hackers take over and encrypt vital cyber systems and demand a ransom to release the data.

The state-wide emergency declaration allows for state resources and cyber assistance to be given to these school districts from the Louisiana National Guard, the Louisiana State Police and the Office of Technology Services.

According to the governor’s office, the state is also cooperating with the FBI, state agencies and higher education partners. 

The school systems in Sabine, Morehouse and Ouachita parishes in northern Louisiana were all hit by malware attacks this week, with the governor’s office in contact with other school districts in the state to assess how far the malware has spread.

“The state was made aware of a malware attack on a few north Louisiana school systems and we have been coordinating a response ever since,” Edwards said in a statement on Wednesday. “This is exactly why we established the Cyber Security Commission, focused on preparing for, responding to and preventing cybersecurity attacks, and we are well-positioned to assist local governments as they battle this current threat.”

The state’s Cyber Security Commission, established by Edwards in 2017, consists of a partnership between cybersecurity professionals, key stakeholders and subject matter experts from Louisiana’s public and law enforcement sectors. 

The Sabine Parish School Board said in a statement that it was “hit by an electronic virus” on Sunday earlier this week, adding that the virus “disabled some of our technology systems and our central office phone system.” The school board noted that school phone systems overall were not impacted.

“The district staff reported this electronic viral attack to local law enforcement, state officials and the FBI,” the Sabine Parish School Board said. “All available resources are being utilized to get the district systems back online. An investigation involving local, state and federal law enforcement is ongoing at this time.”

The cyberattacks on the school districts come after other major metropolitan areas, including Atlanta, Baltimore and several Florida cities, have had their city systems disrupted due to debilitating ransomware attacks in the past year.