Dec 1, 2020
Across the country, increasingly aggressive hackers are breaking into school computer systems and holding sensitive student information for ransom. Education leaders often quietly pay big bucks to regain control of their networks. Tawnell Hobbs of The Wall Street Journal is tracking this growing trend, which takes on even more significance given how reliant schools and colleges have become on remote learning in the COVID-19 pandemic. What factors make education institutions especially vulnerable to attack? What kind of student and family information are hackers obtaining, and how are they exploiting it? How can reporters safely minimize their own digital footprints when reporting these stories? Hobbs shares how she ventured into the “dark web” to interview hackers, and discovered a cottage industry that includes private contractors who negotiate on behalf of school systems for reduced ransom payments. She also shares story ideas on student data privacy, and tips for reporters covering these issues in their own communities.