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Department of Education: Hackers are now targeting elementary and high schools

Even elementary schools have been attacked by cyber criminals.
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Even elementary schools have been attacked by cyber criminals.

No one is safe from a cyber attack, not even elementary school children.

Recently, a hacking group named "The Dark Overlord," known for hacking Netflix, has been linked to a series of attacks on school districts in three different states reports CNN. The Wall Street Journal reports that cyber-thieves have attacked more than three dozen schools.

On October 16, the Department of Education issued a warning for K-12 teachers, parents, students and administrators against the dangers of hackers like The Dark Overlord, citing instances of cyber attacks against school districts in three different states.

"Schools have long been targets for cyber-thieves and criminals," writes the department. "We are writing to let you know of a new threat, where the criminals are seeking to extort money from school districts and other educational institutions on the threat of releasing sensitive data from student records."

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One such attack took place in Columbia Falls, Montana, where students and administrators were sent threatening messages demanding $150,000 in bitcoin in exchange for not publishing stolen school records. Columbia Falls Superintendent Steve Bradshaw tells CNN that students had received text messages referencing Sandy Hook Elementary that said things such as, "splatter kids' blood in the hallways."

The attacks against Columbia Falls forced more than 30 schools to shut down for three days while law enforcement determined the hackers were located outside of the United States. According to The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Valley College paid hackers $28,000 in ransom.

The Department of Education's letter confirmed that threats like these have now been observed multiple times, stating, "In some cases, this has included threats of violence, shaming, or bullying the children unless payment is received."

None of the threats have, to date, resulted in actual violence.

"These attacks are being actively investigated by the FBI, and it is important to note that none of the threats of violence have thus far been judged to be credible," explains the department.

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Officials believe that hackers are attacking the most vulnerable school districts those with "weak data security, or well-known vulnerabilities that enable the attackers to gain access to sensitive data."

In order to protect private information that can be stolen and used for extortion, the Department of Education suggests that schools conduct security audits and that they train staff and students on data security best practices.

Robert Herjavec, founder and CEO of cybersecurity firm Herjavec Group, and a star of ABC's "Shark Tank," tells CNBC that the threat of cyber attacks should not be underestimated.

"So long as there is a way for cyber criminals to get paid, with limited risk, attacks will continue," he says.

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