Louisiana governor updates cyber summit on threat to his state’s school districts

In the wake of cyberattacks in 4 parishes, he says, thousands of computers must be re-imaged before classes start
Updated: Jul. 30, 2019 at 10:06 PM CDT
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BOSSIER CITY, La. (KSLA) - Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards was the keynote speaker Tuesday at the Community College Cyber Summit.

The event hosted by Bossier Parish Community College was held at Horseshoe Casino.

At the top of everyone’s minds was the cyber attack on four schools districts in the state.

In addition to the cyberattacks in Sabine, Morehouse, and Monroe, the governor says Tangipahoa School District was attacked over the weekend.

In his keynote address, Edwards spoke about workforce development and training in the field of cybersecurity right now.

The governor says that cyber threats are very real and growing and that, as a result, cybersecurity is a field of growing opportunity.

“We are experiencing that in a real way in Louisiana for the first time right now as we gather,” he told the crowd.

Edwards said teams are working at all school systems in the state to identify the threat and make school districts aware of how to protect themselves in the future.

State officials say there was a call Tuesday morning with school system IT departments to provide additional technical assistance and recommendations on how to protect themselves from this particular type of malware.

“We’re encouraging all of the school districts to take this current threat seriously so that we can avoid seeing any additional systems impacted,” a spokeswoman said.

There are thousands of computers that have to re-imaged before classes start.

“We have mobilized teams to go to the school districts to help them stand back up," Edwards said. "And now we are going to have to work through this process and also continue to work to make sure we are going to improve the situation going forward.

"While it’s school systems today, it could be any public or private entity tomorrow. This is really serious.”

The governor said he’s taking an all-hands on deck approach with help from the FBI and partners like the Cyber Innovation Center in Bossier City.

The cyberattack prompted the governor — for the first time — to declare a statewide cybersecurity emergency last week, activating its Cyber Commission and Emergency Support Function 17.

Officials with schools districts throughout Louisiana, including DeSoto and Webster, say they are taking extra precautions.

Following are statements released Tuesday by DeSoto, Sabine and Webster school districts:

“Monday evening, the DeSoto Parish School System took a proactive approach to the recent cybersecurity attacks on Louisiana schools. As a precautionary measure, we have shut down internet activity for all buildings. We are following guidelines set forth by the Louisiana Department of Education. At this time, there does not appear to be any sign of compromise. Please note, phone systems may not work for some district buildings. We appreciate your understanding, and we will keep you updated on the progress.”

The cyber incident that hit Sabine Parish School Board is still under investigation. Members of the Louisiana Office of Technology Services, National Guard and Air National Guard are aiding in these efforts. At this time, there is no evidence that student or staff information was compromised. School is scheduled to start for teachers on Aug. 7 with students reporting Aug. 12. We will provide more information as the investigation proceeds. Sabine Parish School Board appreciates all organizations and community partners that are helping us through this difficult time."

“As a precautionary measure dealing with the ransomware attack targeting Louisiana school systems, the Webster Parish School Board is implementing six phases directed by the Cybersecurity Task Force. As we work through this process, we appreciate your patience, cooperation and understanding.”

Earlier Tuesday, the governor made a few campaign stops at BPCC in Bossier City get a first-hand look at some cybersecurity and STEM training programs.

He described Shreveport-Bossier City as a cyber corridor with excellent training programs.

Edwards also toured the Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Technology.

And he saw mock hospital and paramedic training facilities at the STEM building on campus.

The governor met with Girl Scouts pursuing cybersecurity badges, as well.

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