Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

August 31, 2013

State ed dept. computers attacked

Student data secure, Internet outages biggest problem

ASHLAND — Parents across the state, including those in some northeast Kentucky school districts, have been unable to access their children’s online records this week because of a cyber attack on the Kentucky Department of Education’s Infinite Campus network, according to state education officials.

Most, if not all, Kentucky schools also have suffered internet outages over the course of the week, officials said.

The “intense, targeted and sophisticated” attack was detected late last week, according to education department associate commissioner David Couch; it targets servers that handle the Infinite Campus information network and the parent portals through which parents access their children’s grades, attendance records and other data.

However, student information remains secure because the attacks don’t attempt to steal data. Instead, the attacks disrupt service by sending millions of signals from hundreds of thousands of computers to the state servers, which clogs their capacity to handle the messages.

The state computers have firewalls that stop the signals before they can do damage or access data.

Smaller districts, which use state servers in Frankfort to handle their Infinite Campus services, are the main victims of the disruptions. Larger districts, those with 3,000 or more students, have their own network servers and haven’t lost the service.

The parent portal has been down all week in the Russell Independent district, said director of pupil personnel Anthony Thompson. “We’ve gotten a lot of calls about the parent portal because they watch it religiously,” he said.

Raceland-Worthington and Fairview, both districts with relatively few students, also have lost their Infinite Campus service this week. The loss of service also impacts teachers, many of whom work from home after school hours and rely on the connection to do so, according to Janet Vanderpool, assistant to the Fairview director of pupil personnel.

The attacks were continuing as recently as Friday morning, Raceland-Worthington technology coordinator Janie Tolliver said. “The state has given us regular updates and has been working aggressively to solve these problems,” she said.

Students can access their own data inside the school, and so can parents if they come to the school and use either a school computer or their own smartphone.

Northeast Kentucky’s county districts are large enough to employ their own network servers and haven’t lost Infinite Campus service. However, intermittent loss of internet service has been a problem throughout the week.

The loss is significant because many student assessments are internet-based, said Carter County technology coordinator Barrett Bush.

Education department technology experts now believe the attacks may have resulted from a virus brought into a school on a student’s device, unknown to the student, spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez said. Once activated, the virus triggered other devices to send the signals that resulted in the disruption.

Technology experts are looking for ways to improve the state computer system so it can detect future threats before they are activated, according to Rodriguez.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.

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