MINNEAPOLIS — Editor's Note: The video above first aired on April 10, 2023.
The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) is assessing the damage after a global data breach compromised personal information from the files of more than 95,000 students.
MDE announced the breach in a press release Friday, saying it came in the form of a global cyber security attack targeting organizations that use MOVEit software, a product used by many companies and government agencies across the world.
The department first became aware of the attack on May 31, when Minnesota IT services was informed of a potential vulnerability with MOVEit, which transfers files. That same day, MDE says files on one of its servers were attacked by an outside entity.
A spokesperson for MOVEit said the organization is working with federal law enforcement agencies as part of its response to the attack.
"When we discovered the vulnerability, we promptly launched an investigation, alerted MOVEit customers about the issue and provided immediate mitigation steps. We disabled web access to MOVEit Cloud to protect our Cloud customers, developed a security patch to address the vulnerability, made it available to our MOVEit Transfer customers, and patched and re-enabled MOVEit Cloud, all within 48 hours," the statement said.
Investigators say at this point it appears that 24 files were compromised, including data transferred to MDE from the Minnesota Department of Human Services regarding 95,000 students across the state placed in foster care. Other information stolen impacts a small number of students from the Perham and Minneapolis school districts and a few dozen taking PSEO classes at Hennepin Technical College.
In a message from Minneapolis Public Schools, the district alerted families that some data submitted to MDE to meet state and federal guidelines was accessed during the breach. "We’re sorry to hear the MDE is the latest victim of the ongoing threat of cybersecurity incidents that has impacted hundreds of school districts and organizations across the country," the district said.
Earlier this year, MPS was targeted by a large-scale hack, which leaked data and information dating back to 1995.
Immediately after learning about the breach, MDE and its partners notified the FBI, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and Office of the Legislative Auditor about the situation.
State education officials insist no financial data was compromised in the global cyber attack, and say the department is working to contact the students who are impacted. At this point there have been no ransom demands or any indication the data has been shared or posted online.
"MDE takes data privacy very seriously. We understand that third parties illegally accessing private data can have negative consequences for those whose data was accessed," the department said in a released statement. "Working with our MNIT partners, MDE is adding additional security measures to protect private data and prevent instances like this from happening in the future."
Anyone who may have been impacted by the cyber breach or is interested in the investigative report on the incident can check out a special MDE web page.
Cybersecurity expert Bryce Austin with TCE Strategy says this data breach points to a major problem with today's digital landscape.
"When a lot of people use the same software package and the software package ends up being an attack vector, every customer using that software package can be a victim," Austin explains.
"We don't yet have the equivalent of fire doors and sprinkler systems in our electronic networks, so a cyber "fire" can easily traverse one end of the network to the other."
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