Teen arrested in cyberattacks on Miami-Dade schools

Author: The Associated Press
FILE- In this Aug. 31, 2020 file photo, Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ superintendent Alberto Carvalho leans over to greet students remotely during a visit to Ms. Vanessa Acosta’s, right, 1st grade class during a brief visit to Bob Graham Education Center in Miami Lakes, Fla. Authorities announced, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, that a 16-year-old student has been arrested for orchestrating a series of network outages and cyberattacks during the first week of school in Florida’s largest district. (Carl Juste/Miami Herald via AP, File)

A 16-year-old student has been arrested for orchestrating a series of network outages and cyberattacks during the first week of school in Florida’s largest district, authorities said Thursday.

The Miami-Dade Schools Police said in a news release that the boy is a student at South Miami Senior High School. They also said there could be others involved in the cyberattacks that have plagued the Miami-Dade schools all week.

According to the statement, the student told police he had conducted eight attacks on the school computer system “designed to overwhelm district networks.” He has been charged with computer use in an attempt to defraud, which is a felony; and misdemeanor interference with an educational institution.

The student’s name has not been released because he is a juvenile. It was not immediately clear if he has a lawyer to represent him.

Earlier, officials revealed that a $15.3 million contract with the online platform at the center of the crisis was never signed.

Ron Steiger, the Miami-Dade County school district’s chief financial officer, made the announcement Wednesday during a school board meeting to discuss the failures of K12’s online platform, My School Online, the Miami Herald reported. He said the contract was missing the signature of Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

The coronavirus pandemic caused officials to delay the start of classes from mid-August to Aug. 31, when students started the school year in a virtual format. But scores of students and teachers have not been able to access the online system.

The Herald reported that the school district hasn’t made the contract public under Florida’s public records law. School board members have been asking to see the contract, but the district has cited an exemption that allows districts to purchase curriculum without board approval.

The school board has been overwhelmed with complaints from parents after three days of outages and failures.

The school district’s chief academic officer, Marie Izquierdo, said officials are working on a solution.

“We do have a long weekend ahead of us,” she said, adding that the alternative would be to revert to the plan that worked when the pandemic started in the spring, when every teacher used whatever platform they felt most comfortable with.

Parents complained then that it was too confusing to navigate multiple platforms. And the district could only measure one-time log-ins, not sustained participation, which is a feature offered by My School Online.

On Wednesday night, an email was sent to all secondary teachers asking them to use Microsoft Teams and Zoom until Sept. 11. The district will then assess if grades six through 12 will use K12 beginning Sept. 14 or stick with Microsoft Teams and Zoom.

Izquierdo said the K12 platform was not “operating effectively” on a national level for secondary education.

The company said in an emailed statement to the Herald that network outages affected the online platform.

Wednesday saw some improvement for teachers and students attempting to log on to the system, despite 12 cyberattacks that occurred during the morning hours, district officials said. More attacks continued throughout the day, the Herald reported.

District officials have determined the cyberattackers have demanded no ransom, and some of the attacks came from outside the U.S.

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has requested a briefing with the Department of Homeland Security on cybersecurity as it relates to school districts.

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