Baltimore County public schools remain closed as ransomware attack prevents remote learning

The attack was initially detected last Tuesday night.

Published: November 30, 2020 7:48am

Updated: November 30, 2020 10:05am

Public schools in Baltimore County, Md., will remain closed on Monday and Tuesday as officials continue to respond to a ransomware attack that forced the cancellation of remote learning sessions prior to the Thanksgiving holiday.

The attack, which was first detected last Tuesday evening, impacted the county's websites and learning programs, as well as grading and emailing systems. 

Schools subsequently closed Wednesday for the area's roughly 115,000 students. The district announced Saturday that those closures would continue through this Tuesday. The district additionally warned that students should refrain from using any Windows-based devices it had issued "until further notice." 

The county school district is currently using a model of entirely remote learning that will remain in effect until at least January, after which it will allow students the opportunity to be taught in-person on a part-time basis. 

The global coronavirus pandemic has forced many school systems online in a way that creates ample targets for cyberattacks, given the generally low-security reinforcements being used by most school systems.

A ransomware attacks consists of a data breach by an unauthorized individual or set of individuals, who then lock users out of their data with the promise that they will unlock the data if a ransom is paid. 

"This is a ransomware attack which encrypts data as it sits and does not access or remove it from our system. So we are engaging this as a ransomware attack," the district's executive director of information technology, Jim Corns, said at a news conference last week.

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