Cyberattack on APS keeps schools closed a second day - Albuquerque Journal

Cyberattack on APS keeps schools closed a second day

Custodian Robert Miller locks the exit gates at John Adams Middle School on Thursday after APS announced schools would remain closed a second day on Friday due to a cyberattack. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Albuquerque Public Schools will remain closed a second day on Friday while the district investigates and restores its computer system, which was compromised in a cyberattack.

Teachers and administrators on Wednesday discovered that their student information system had been hacked. The system is used to take and track attendance, contact families in emergencies and ensure that students are picked up from school by authorized adults.

APS officials wouldn’t say what, if any, personal information about students or parents was in the system, or if such information had been stolen. Neither would they say if this was a ransomware attack in which the hackers made demands.

APS schools and offices will be closed Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and officials said in an update to parents that they expect to reopen schools on Tuesday. Just like snow days, the classroom days off because of the cyberattack will need to be made up at the end of the school year.

Athletics and other extracurricular activities are expected to continue as scheduled, although meals will not be available.

The gates at Lavaland Elementary School are locked after APS closed for a second day due to a cyberattack. (Adolphpe Pierre-Louis, Albuquerque Journal)

The district’s administrative offices will remain open Friday, and essential school employees are also expected to report to work.

In a video message released Thursday afternoon, APS Superintendent Scott Elder said cyber experts and law enforcement from “near and far” are helping investigate what is a growing challenge for school districts across the nation, which he said have seen a five-fold increase in cyberattacks since 2016. Most of these originate outside the United States and “are frequently promoted on the dark web,” he said.

Schools are an easy target for hackers because “they know we can’t afford the same in-house cyber security expertise found in the private sector.” In addition, virtual learning has made schools even more vulnerable “as that model created more access points for potential intrusion,” Elder said.

The district is working to determine the extent of exposure, reinforce safety protocols “and increase our level of monitoring to prevent future attacks,” Elder said.

He also dismissed chatter on social media platforms, claiming that the cyberattack was created to allow the district time to deal with surging COVID cases.

“I assure you that isn’t the case,” he said. “We really have been hit simultaneously by two crippling crises.”

The Public Education Department on Thursday confirmed that no other state school districts were targeted, and the FBI has said the attack on APS does not appear to be related to a recent cyberattack on the Bernalillo County government computer system.

In response to the APS closure, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central New Mexico will offer free all-day programming on Friday for youth age 5-18 at its 3333 Truman NE facility. The programming will be available from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on a space-available basis. Parents and guardians are asked to register in advance by calling 505-521-7900, or through an online link at the Facebook page for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central New Mexico.

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