For most of us, the last week in Flathead County has seemed like something out of a movie.
The idea that an anonymous hacker or hackers could shut down 19 school districts as well as several private schools and multiple day-care facilities for three days just doesn’t make sense in rural Northwest Montana.
But it’s not a movie; it’s life in the 21st Century. The interconnectedness of our lives — and data — on the World Wide Web has made cyber terrorism not just a possibility, but an inevitability. It doesn’t matter to a hacker whether you live in Los Angeles or Columbia Falls — if you have stored data on the cloud or a server connected to the internet, you are a target.
In fact, DarkOverlord Solutions, the group identified as being behind the cyber attack on the Columbia Falls School District and other Flathead County schools, is allegedly responsible for stealing episodes of the Netflix hit show “Orange Is the New Black,” and releasing them illicitly — even after being paid a $50,000 ransom. The group has also targeted health professionals and promises to attack anyone that has vulnerable data online.
In fact, online data breaches, threats and ransom demands are so common that the disruption of the lives of thousands of students, parents and teachers didn’t even make a blip on the national news front. Just another day in cyberland apparently, but the criminals obtained untold amounts of private data about Columbia Falls families in particular, and sent brutal and terrifying threats to many of them.
Let’s hope this incident serves as a wakeup call not just for local school districts, but for all businesses and individuals that online security is no joking matter.
In the meantime, hats off to local law enforcement and school district authorities who took measured and appropriate responses to protect our young people from an unknown threat. Three days out of school has been a hardship for many people, and will have a ripple effect that will continue throughout the school year, but it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.
Now, we can only hope that the FBI, working with local and international authorities, are able to track down the culprits and make them pay. A few dozen years in jail would be a good starting place.