DoppelPaymer dumps data from public school districts in Mississippi and Montana

Why ransomware threat actors go after small school districts with few resources still puzzles me.  The districts may be “low-hanging fruit” from a security perspective, but they generally do not have the resources to pay big ransom demands. So why target them? My puzzlement notwithstanding, a number of ransomware teams do attack k-12 districts. DoppelPaymer is one of those that do, and this week, they dumped more data from two of their victims.

The Pascagoula-Gautier School District in Mississippi is a public school district that serves approximately 7,000 students in 19 elementary (K-4), academy (5-6), middle school (7-8), high school (9 – 12), and specialty school campuses that serve the cities of Gautier and Pascagoula, MS.  On Oct. 20, 2020, the district fell prey to a ransomware attack.

At the time, the district promptly alerted the community with a statement. It said, in part:

A joint investigation was conducted with the PGSD Information Systems Department and the Miss. Army National Guard Cyber which determined servers containing financial and child nutrition records were not comprised or extracted.

“The investigation did determine that a server containing student data was comprised, but did not include any social security numbers. The investigation was inconclusive as to whether any student data was taken or whether other data was taken from the PGSD network, and no ransom was paid,” Rodolfich said.

This week, DoppelPaymer threat actors dumped more data from the district. The dump appears to include data on students and employees as well as routine files for a school district.

As an example of what was dumped, there was at least one spreadsheet with student data on more than 6,500 students. The data fields consisted of:

School_id Student_id Student_number State_id Last_name Middle_name First_name Grade Gender DOB Race Hispanic_latino Ell_status Frl_status IEP_Status Student_street Student_city Student_state Student_zip Student_email Contact_relationship Contact_type Contact_name Contact_phone Contact_email Username Password

The password field was empty in that particular spreadsheet. Much of the data on that spreadsheet might be publicly available (depending on how the district defines “directory information”), but parents/guardians’ relationship, names and contact info (home, cell, email) is probably not directory information. There were no SSNs in this file.

Another file included summary information on behavioral or disciplinary incidents in the schools for a two-month period from August – October. That file included students’ names, schools, and what happened (e.g., excessive tardiness resulting in in-school suspension).

There were also a number of files with information on staff that included some salary information, benefits info, and full SSN.  Other files included employee contracts, also with SSN. DataBreaches.net has not completed a full review of the data dump as of the time of this posting, but the SSNs are concerning enough that the district should be notifying staff promptly if they have not notified them already.

The Pascagoula-Gautier district is not the only district that DoppelPaymer threat actors have dumped more data from this week. In a separate listing on their leak site, they  also dumped more data from Gardiner Public Schools, a K-12, one-building school that serves approximately 200 students in Gardiner, Montana. DataBreaches.net had noted the attack in a previous post on this site.

The newest data dump contains an assortment of files, with some files revealing personal and what should be protected information on named students. There are also files dealing with staff or routine district issues. Many of the documents are older files with student rosters — rosters that are likely directory information anyway. There were only a few current files in the dump, so the attackers may be holding back on those if they got them. There were no payroll, financial, special education, medical, or other files in this particular dump.

Neither of these dumps was indicated as any “final” dump, so it’s possible that DoppelPaymer is sitting on more files from both of these districts. What they will do going forward remains to be seen.

School districts have so much to struggle with this year. Having to deal with threat actors and incident response should not be among those challenges, but sadly, they are.  DataBreaches.net will continue to monitor leak sites for updates or new instances of attacks on the education and healthcare sectors in the U.S.

A previous version of this post was updated after I was able to get part of one of the data dumps to open. 

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