Cyberattacks give Miami-Dade public schools a rough start to the new academic year

Teen working on school work from home. Credit: Mayur Kakade/Getty Images

Miami-Dade County Public Schools — the largest school district in Florida — is struggling with cyberattacks on its online learning platform, causing additional stress for thousands of students and families in the first few days of the new school year.

The school system is one of the few districts with permission from the Florida Department of Education to open its new school year fully online, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

As of Wednesday, Miami-Dade reported 159,400 COVID-19 infections, according to the Florida Department of Health — the highest number in the state. Statewide, the figure is 633,442, so Miami-Dade makes up 25 percent of COVID-19 infections in Florida.

Most Florida school districts must open brick-and-mortar schools at least five days a week and can provide families the option of distance learning, according to a July emergency order signed by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.

The emergency order led to a lawsuit which brought media attention on brick-and-mortar schools during the pandemic. Meanwhile, virtual learning faces its own problems.

Some school districts have reported small technical hiccups that are usually ironed out in the next few days.

But for Miami-Dade, the cyberattacks add another complication to an already stressful school setting in the first days of the 2020-21 school year.

The district announced Wednesday that there were 12 cyberattacks this morning. Some of those attacks were from outside of the United States and others were local, according to the Miami Herald.

Earlier in the week, the school system had a programming glitch in its online learning platform called My School Online. That issue was reportedly fixed that night, according to a statement from the district.

A day later, the district learned that its online learning platform had been subjected to a “distributed denial of service” attack to slow connectivity and access to the district’s online learning platform.

The Department of Homeland Security says this type of attack “is accomplished by flooding the targeted host or network with traffic until the target cannot respond or simply crashes, preventing access for legitimate users.”

That means some students are unable to access the district’s online learning platform because the site crashed, overwhelmed by traffic.

Personal data from students or employees has not been compromised in the attack, according to a statement from Miami-Dade school district in a Tuesday Twitter post.

Despite the cyberattack, some students were able to access the learning platform. The district advised those 200,000 students who could access the site to remained logged on, according to a Wednesday Twitter post. The Miami-Dade school district serves about 345,000 students, according to its website.

But for students who cannot yet access the online learning platform, the  district has asked students to use alternative video communication platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams while they attempt to get the cyberattacks under control.

The Miami-Dade school district said in a statement that the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department is leading an investigation on the matter, and is “working jointly with the U.S. Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

The district has also notified the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.