As September begins, back-to-school season is in full swing, with kids settling back into their classrooms and the Friday night lights drawing crowds to high school stadiums across Texas. But as foreign cybercriminals get more advanced, local school districts are now becoming more frequent victims of foreign cyber-attacks. Just this week, the Los Angeles Unified school district – the second largest in the nation – was hit with a ransomware attack. Unfortunately, this isn’t anything new to Texas schools, which have also been targeted by nefarious foreign actors.
It may sound like something out of a James Bond movie, but adversaries like Russia and China are continuously targeting school districts, local governments and other critical infrastructure, attempting to gain access important personal data and other sensitive information. In 2021, Judson ISD in San Antonio experienced a high-profile data breach, with both past and present students and teachers’ personal information held ransom, forcing school officials to hand over an undisclosed amount to get the data back. The year before, Manor ISD, near Austin, was bilked out of $2.3 million in a phishing scheme.
Unfortunately, these stories are far from uncommon, with hundreds of incidents impacting every corner of the state, from El Paso to Longview. In 2021 alone, ransomware attacks on U.S. schools and colleges cost an estimated $3.56 billion. In order to fend off these breaches, we must focus on building the technologies of the future, often made right here in Texas, to safeguard our data and national security.
America’s tech companies are critical in the fight against these hackers. In response to a White House cybersecurity summit in 2021, America’s biggest tech companies pledged to spend billions more on cybersecurity. Some are developing programs to harden tech supply chains, others are investing more than $30 billion in cybersecurity, advanced tools, and training 250,000 Americans in technical fields that support cybersecurity.
However, rather than partnering with our leading tech companies to make us more secure, some lawmakers in Washington are pursuing anti-innovation legislation that will only help our foreign adversaries while hampering our domestic tech industry. These proposals would provide countries such as China with more access to U.S. data, threatening the security of us all. Our elected representatives in Congress cannot ignore these realities and need to help bolster American-made innovation and prevent us from being surpassed in tech leadership by China.
September is a time for our students to learn, make new friends, join new clubs and play their favorite sports. It would be a shame if that were hampered by a cyberattack that has the potential to shut down a school or cost a local school district millions of dollars — time and money taken away at the expense of our students. It’s time for our government to take action, protect our students’ and all Texans’ personal data, and ensure that this back-to-school season isn’t left in the hands of our foreign adversaries.
Doug Kelly is the CEO of the American Edge Project, a coalition of nearly two dozen organizations dedicated to advancing and protecting American technology and innovation.