NC: Haywood County Schools Sends Data Breach Notices for August Ransomware Attack

Becky Johnson reports:

 Hundreds of current and former Haywood County Schools employees got letters this month informing them their private information could have been compromised in a cyberattack against the school system.

A cybercriminal ring hacked the school’s servers in August and attempted to blackmail the school system into paying a ransom in exchange for unlocking the network — including a threat that the hackers would post the data they obtained on the dark web if the school system didn’t pay up.

Read more on Government Technology. had first noted the Haywood attack on August 25 after it was first reported by WYMA.  On September 5, this site noted Bleeping Computer was reporting that it was SunCrypt ransomware, and that the attackers had dumped some of the district’s files on their dedicated leak site.

So why did it take more than four months more for the school district to notify current and former employees?

Note that there is no federal breach notification law that covers the education sector for this type of breach notification.  And Haywood isn’t the only school district to be distressingly slow in notifying those whose identity information has been stolen and either dumped publicly or possibly sold on the dark web.  Just this week a former employee of the Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia informed that he had just received a notification letter about their ransomware incident, which also occurred around the same time. The FCPS incident involved Maze ransomware, however, and it appeared that that district paid the ransom to get the attackers to remove the data they had already dumped — but not in time to prevent at least some data winding up in others’ hands.

Breaches in the education sector are often referred to as “low-hanging fruit” because security is generally not as strong as security for other sectors. Isn’t it long past time to have some addressable requirements for the education sector in terms of security and some actual deadlines or timeframes for required notifications in the event of a breach? When employees’ SSN and payroll information are hacked and dumped or are in criminals’ hands, how can it possibly be acceptable to not notify them of that for four or five months? Hopefully, districts did alert at least current employees to take steps to protect themselves and their accounts, but what about former employees who may have moved or no longer look at the district’s web site?

As this site recommended in discussing ransomware incidents in the healthcare sector,  when data have been dumped publicly, the entity should issue some early warning system publicly — even just a brief press release that alerts people who may be impacted and that tells them where to look for updates as they become available.  Leaving people in the dark for four or five months while their data is freely available on the internet in forums or on criminals’ leak sites is just not acceptable. What do these states’ laws say about breach notifications for the education sector?

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