Louisiana Issues State Emergency Declaration in Response to District Data Breaches

The governor of Louisiana issued a statewide emergency declaration in response to a cybersecurity event that breached the school systems of three parishes in the northern part of the state and threatened other public and private entities in the state. The declaration allows affected organizations to access multiple state resources, including help from cybersecurity experts from the National Guard, the State Police, the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness and the Office of Technology Services. It's the first time that emergency support has been activated in the state specifically for cybersecurity.

Louisiana is also getting assistance from experts within the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Louisiana State University.

Initially, the school systems of Sabine, Morehouse and Ouachita parishes were compromised. Through Facebook, Superintendent Sara Ebarb announced that the school system had been "hit with an electronic virus early Sunday morning," which "disabled some of our technology systems and our central office phone system."

Now other school systems also appear to have been struck.

Tangipahoa Parish schools went offline on Monday — including email and phone lines — as a precaution when school officials uncovered a potential cybersecurity issue on the network.

In a statement, the superintendent of that district, Melissa Stilley, said the issue appeared to be similar to problems experienced in the other districts. "These cybercriminals target state and local government agencies, infecting their computer networks with malware or locking down the network for a ransom," she said. "Our team is working around the clock to address any concerns and certify our back-up systems."

Similar actions were taken in Lafayette Parish School System on Tuesday, but not necessarily because problems were detected. As a district notice explained, the shutdown was done to take "necessary precautions and [implement] a multi-phase prevention plan as recommended by the state." To accommodate the work, the district cancelled several back-to-school activities, including student orientations, registration and placement testing.

The state declaration will remain in effect through Aug. 21, unless state officials are satisfied that the problems have been resolved sooner than that.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.