RRPS: Hunting for a cyber-attacker, honoring artistic student in the same meeting

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — In hopes of catching whoever launched a cyber-attack against Rio Rancho Public Schools’ network, members of the school board voted 5-0 to offer a $1,000 reward to anyone assisting in the arrest and conviction of that perpetrator.

And, board members heard Monday evening from two staffers in the Information Technology Department, the subject just might be an RRPS student.

At 1:50 p.m. Sept. 12, Scott Leppelman of the IT Department reported, the district was the victim of a DDOS attack (distributed denial-of-service) on its network. A DDOS attack is a form of a cyber-attack that occurs when multiple IP addresses try to connect to a system with the goal to overwhelm resources and bring down critical network services.

The attacks continued on and off for “several” days, said district spokeswoman Beth Pendergrass.

RRPS logs showed that traffic was sourced from what appeared to be thousands of different IP addresses hitting the district interface at the same time, mostly from outside of the U.S., according to news release from the district.

“Our network was only down for a minute,” said IT Executive Director Paul Romero. “(There) seems to be a firestorm in our state.”

The RRPS Network Team followed IT protocol, and reported the cyber-attack to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center, and put in additional safeguards for these types of attacks.

“There’s no such thing as a perfect network, especially when you have 20,000 users on it,” Leppelman added. “Even the FBI has trouble tracking these things down.”

Based on previous experiences inside and outside of RRPS, the district believes that this attack may have been initiated by a user within RRPS, according to the release. The attack itself was sourced from multiple devices outside the RRPS network, but could have been initiated by a user inside of it.

At the board meeting, Leppelman said, all the attacks were on school days, 7:45 to 9 a.m. or 1 to 2:30 p.m.

“Incidents of this nature result in countless hours of work and can have a devastating effect on the operations of a school district,” according to the release.

Thus, the district posted the reward – in hopes some student will overhear someone bragging about the incident and have the information pay off.

“Prevention is a lot smarter than dealing with it after the fact,” Superintendent Sue Cleveland said. “Whatever we can do to prevent this, we need to do that.”

Anyone with information regarding the attack is urged to contact RRPS Safety and Security Executive Director Sal Maniaci at 896-0667.

Board members didn’t get the opportunity to give the second reading to Policy 1029, which deals with administering medical cannabis at school. Board president Catherine Cullen said it was her idea to “pull” the agenda item from discussion, and that, to the best of her knowledge, only one RRPS student among the more than approximately 17,500 students enrolled, needs medical marijuana.

Rio Rancho Middle School sixth-grader Amilia Cuevas earn a second-place finish at the 2019 New Mexico State Fair. Amilia, who was a fifth-grader at Rio Rancho Elementary when she did the piece, was recognized by the school board at its Sept. 23 meeting.

In addition to approving the minutes from an earlier meeting and a finance committee meeting, the board also lauded Eagle Ridge Middle School band director Jonathan Robak, a 2008 graduate of Rio Rancho High School, for receiving the New Mexico Music Educators Association “New and Emerging Educator” award, and commended sixth-grader Amilia Cuevas, who had a piece of artwork that placed second at the New Mexico State Fair.

Workshop follows the regular meeting

Following  what became a 37-minute meeting, the board held a workshop, in which it heard presentations about the latest developments in career-technical education, and the plans to record and air board meetings sometime in the near future.

The board members remained alarmed about the potential cost to record and air the meetings, whether live or accessible on the rrps.net site, and the manpower it will require, which is complicated further by closed-captioning.

Two candidates for school board seats in the Nov. 5 general election were in the audience Monday: Jeffery Morgan, the lone candidate running for Katherine Covey’s District 3 seat, and Amanda Joy Galbraith, one of two challengers for District 2 board member Ramon Montaño’s seat.

The next school board meeting is set for Oct. 14 at 5:30 p.m.

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