For the first time in the state’s history, Louisiana has declared a cybersecurity state of emergency in wake of a wave of ransomware infections that hit three school districts. School districts hold troves of private data, and oftentimes, may not have the resources to keep up with ever-evolving cyber threats, meaning they are ideal targets for cybercriminals.
Details on the cyberattacks have not been revealed, and Gov. John Bel Edwards’ emergency declaration frees up a myriad of additional resources to mitigate the incidents. There is precedent for this sort of response from a state governor due to a ransomware attack; in 2018, a declaration of emergency came after Colorado’s Department of Transportation was compromised with the SamSam ransomware. These latest incidents in Louisiana, however, are part of a much larger issue across America as cities—including Atlanta and Baltimore—are seeing an uptick in ransomware attacks.
The specific nature of the cyberattacks impacting IT infrastructure in schools in Morehouse, Ouachita and Sabine parishes, has not been revealed, though they appear to have started over two weeks ago. A website alert on the Monroe City School System in Ouachita Parish states it experienced a “disruption” on July 8. The Sabine Parish schools said Wednesday claimed an “electronic virus” on Sunday that has disabled some technology systems, including phones at the district’s central office. Digital phone systems are vulnerable to ransomware attacks, though none of the Louisiana schools attacks have been publicly identified using ransomware. Along with state and federal investigators, Edwards’ emergency declaration adds resources to potentially mitigate the incidents. Cybersecurity experts from the Louisiana National Guard, Louisiana State Police and the state’s Office of Technology Services, and Louisiana State University will now investigate the attacks.