More than three dozen schools call off classes after ‘cyber terrorist’ threat

The FBI has reached out to the suspect “via electronic means”…

David bisson
David Bisson

More than three dozen schools call off classes after 'cyber terrorist' threat

More than three dozen public schools and other educational institutions canceled classes after receiving threats from a “cyber terrorist.”

Columbia Falls School District of Flathead County, Montana has received threats via text message from someone claiming to be The Dark Overlord, the same attacker that leaked multiple episodes of “Orange Is the New Black” online and stole company data from Gorilla Glue.

In a rambling ransom message sent to the school district, the offending individuals reveal that they hacked the school district’s infrastructure and stole information pertaining to the school’s students, teachers, and staff.

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Columbia Falls officials were then presented with a series of “business propositions.” That is, extortion scenarios demanding upwards of $150,000 within a year’s time. The blackmailers also offer eda reduced demand of $75,000 if the school district pays by 20 October.

To increase the likelihood of successful payment, the attackers paint a grim picture of what could happen if Columbia Falls fails to pay:

“We can go to the public with much of what we have. We can with great ease, put everything we have retrieved, from your district, on full display and cause you a tremendous amount of public embarrassment and humiliation. What does that mean, you ask? Imagine if we published all of your sensitive behavioural reports from your counselors and social workers on the open internet. Imagine if we published student grades and even the shoddy student work. How about nurse reports and private health information? What would the parents have to say about this? What sort of lawsuits would they begin? What would happen if everyone found out the reason we closed down multiple districts and over thirty sites is due to your failure to secure your networks?”

Darkoverlord That’s right. Apparently, a number of other school districts in Flathead County received threatening texts or learned of notes mentioning harm against local schools.

These alarming messages led 34 public school districts, six private schools, Flathead Valley Community College, and some preschool programs to cancel classes on 14 September, reports Daily Inter Lake.

Many area schools also canceled classes and after-school activities for the following Friday and Monday. All classes and activities are expected to resume on 19 September.

While affected districts work to get back to normal, the Columbia Falls School District continues with its investigation into the incident.

Over the weekend, local police and the FBI established contact with the individual responsible for the threats via “electronic means.” No arrests have yet been made as of this writing.

If Flathead County parents, teachers, or students receive any suspicious or threatening emails, text messages, or phone calls, they should contact their local police department and should not engage the sender in any way. These threats are only designed to spread fear and panic, perhaps in a bid to get Columbia Falls School District to pay the ransom.

No doubt it will take the effort of the entire Flathead County community to stay strong, to come out on the other side of this incident, and to implement security measures that can help prevent a similar event from occurring in the future.

David Bisson is an infosec news junkie and security journalist. He works as Contributing Editor for Graham Cluley Security News and Associate Editor for Tripwire's "The State of Security" blog.

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