MISSOULA, Mont. – We’re looking into school cybersecurity after a hacker’s threats forced Flathead Valley officials to cancel school for three days. A group called Dark Overlord Solutions demanded money to keep the personal information it stole safe. Now other school districts are re-examining their cybersecurity.
When we started asking questions, we found there is no simple answer to make sure your family’s sensitive information is safe.
Superintendents we spoke to say they’re very concerned about the threat but say they’re trying to do everything they can to protect their students going forward.
Corey Austin is the superintendent of Target Range Schools in Missoula. When he heard about hacking into the Columbia Falls School District he reached out to his IT team. The Target Range district has its own server, but they store sensitive information on a cloud system.
Each school we spoke with operates differently. Some host their own servers. Some hire third-party companies to host one or all of their servers. Some districts take care of their own firewalls, while others hire it out. The bottom line is there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.
Columbia Falls administrators tell us they had already transitioned to a third-party website before the hack. They think hackers stole information off an old server system that still had documents on it.
Pine Cove Consulting in Bozeman is a company that offers cyber-consulting services. It has a big focus on schools. They’ve worked with about 100 districts in Montana and Wyoming. Their service costs range from $500 to $1,500 per month depending on the size of the district and its needs.
“We’re all a very easy target, and it’s really like a roulette game,” Pine Cove Vice President Brandon Vancleeve said. “Why did this school get hit and a school 20 miles down the road did not? It’s really luck of the draw. So although these are targeted they’re not always specifically targeted at a school intentionally. It’s just, ‘Hey, we found this hole, and we’re going to exploit it as far as we can go.'”
Pine Cove offers free IT assessments. After last week’s threats they’re now getting calls from schools asking about preventive measures. The answer isn’t always simple.
“The threat is constantly evolving, and as soon as we build protection and have a solution that defends against something they’re going to rebuild something else.”
That’s why professionals like Vancleeve and school administrators are constantly monitoring the latest threats to try to stay ahead of the hackers.