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Schumer: LI school districts should get ready to apply for funding to fight off cyberattacks

Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks during a news conference

Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks during a news conference Monday at Manhasset Middle School. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Long Island school districts, which have been hit Robby more than a dozen cyberattacks since 2018 where hackers shut down computer networks and posted confidential files online, can apply for a piece of a $1 billion grant included in the recently signed federal infrastructure bill, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday.

The Department of Homeland Security cybersecurity grant program will provide money to schools from across the country to recover from ransomware attacks and to fortify their systems from future cyber intrusions.

Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Long Island districts, including those that have not been attacked, should begin establishing their plans to apply for a portion of the funding.

"We know how to build defenses of this armor but it's very expensive," Schumer said outside Manhasset Middle School in a district that was subject to a Sept. 14 cyberattack. "And we can't ask the taxpayers of the school district to pay for this."

The bipartisan infrastructure bill authorizes $1 billion for cybersecurity assistance to state and local governments over the next four years — with one-fourth of those funds dedicated to particularly vulnerable communities such as Long Island. The money, Schumer said, cannot be used to pay ransom to hackers.

The bill also funds the creation of a new cyber director office to coordinate the federal response to major hacks and creates a $100 million response and recovery fund to support entities that have been hit by significant cyberattacks.

On Long Island, 13 school districts have suffered cyberattacks or data breaches between 2018 and 2020.

The average ransom payment by educational institutions for ransomware attacks nationwide was $112,000, according to a 2021 study by Sophos, a British security software and hardware company. But the total bill for rectifying a ransomware attack on an educational institution — considering down time, repairs and lost opportunities — was $2.73 million, the study said.

In Manhasset, hackers stole information and sabotaged the district's computer system — preventing access to lesson plans, testing materials, the cafeteria purchase system, phone and email — while demanding a ransom the district refused to pay before publishing to the dark web files containing Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers, officials said.

"The attack created havoc on the daily operations of the district," said Manhasset acting Superintendent Gaurav Passi, adding that it will cost the district an estimated $750,000 to recover from the intrusion, before any reimbursement from insurance. The district hopes to recover those costs through the DHS grant.

The Rockville Centre school district paid almost $100,000 in 2019 to restore its data after being hacked with a ransomware virus that encrypted files on the system’s server until payment was made to unlock the information.

Assemb. Gina Sillitti (D-Manorhaven), said if Manhasset, one of the state's best districts, can be attacked by hackers, "it can happen anywhere."

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