IBMers set out to help schools battle ransomware in 2021

By | 2 minute read | June 2, 2021

In August 2019, the Tangipahoa Parish School System in Louisiana – 45 miles east of Baton Rouge – experienced a ransomware attack that impacted thousands of computers just days before the new school year was set to begin. A few dozen IBMers jumped into action, volunteering to help local school officials and National Guard members respond and eventually got the situation under control.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Educational institutions in the United States have increasingly become a focus for cybercriminals – in fact, the FBI issued an alert warning that more than half of ransomware incidents between August and September 2020 involved K-12 schools. Because of the remote learning challenges brought on by the pandemic, and the fact that schools lack proper cybersecurity resources, training and budget, cybercriminals identified them as an easy target.

IBM’s Security and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) teams noticed this issue and decided to take action, drawing from the experiences they had in Louisiana. In early 2020, IBM announced it would be offering $3 million in cybersecurity grants to a total of six US K-12 school districts. The contributions would be made through in-kind funding and sponsorship of IBM Service Corps teams to deploy to each recipient and to help them improve their cybersecurity posture.

The feedback was instantaneous and in just over a month more than 250 school districts applied for the grant, covering more than 7,800 schools and over 4 million students. After pouring through applications, the problems schools faced became more evident – more than 50% of districts that applied were operating without any cybersecurity training and more than half had less than $100,000 to spend on security for their entire school district. Additionally, of the districts that cited they had experienced a cyberattack before, 40% attributed those attacks to ransomware.

Following a rigorous selection process to determine which districts would benefit from IBM’s help the most, I’m excited to announce we’ve selected the following recipients:

  • Brevard Public Schools – Viera, Florida
  • Poughkeepsie City School District – Poughkeepsie, New York
  • KIPP Metro Atlanta Schools – Atlanta, Georgia
  • Sheldon Independent School District – Houston, Texas
  • Newhall School District – Valencia, California
  • Denver Public Schools – Denver, Colorado

While we’re thrilled to be helping these districts, we couldn’t help but feel the need to address the security concerns outlined by the 250+ other districts that had applied for the grants. So, in the continued interest of lending a helping hand, IBM offered all grant applicants a series of exclusive virtual events aimed at addressing their security pain points. The events prepared them for impending attacks by providing them with actionable insights directly from IBM Security experts.

We’re also offering an additional list of cybersecurity resources via IBM.org for all schools to take advantage of – including educational videos from IBM Security experts, a free security course for students and teachers, a recording of IBM’s education ransomware panel and more.

By partnering together with school districts, we’re working to equip their leaders with the skills needed to turn the tide of cyberattacks. This is the value of #GoodTechIBM.