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Albuquerque schools remain closed after cyberattack

The attack on Albuquerque's computer systems is just one of many carried out against school districts in recent years.

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Albuquerque schools remain closed after a cyberattack.

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Schools in Albuquerque, New Mexico, remained closed Friday as officials continued to investigate a cyberattack that shut down critical computer systems.

Albuquerque Public Schools originally canceled classes Thursday after the attack compromised the student information system used to take attendance, to contact families in emergencies and to assure all students are picked up from school by authorized adults. Later Thursday, the district said it needed more time for its investigation.

The schools, which were previously scheduled to be closed Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, are now expected to reopen Tuesday. The district, which is the largest in New Mexico, has more than 73,000 students -- or about a quarter of all public school students in the state, according to its website.

"All of our efforts are now focused on returning students to class as soon as possible," Superintendent Scott Elder said Thursday in a video message. "We are working to identify the problem, determine the extent of exposure, put fixes in place, reinforce safety protocols and increase our level of monitoring to prevent future attacks."

Elder added that both local and national law enforcement and cybersecurity experts have offered their help. 

Schools districts have become a popular target for cyberattacks, particularly ransomware, in recent years due to the fact that many are running outdated computer systems and don't have the same financial or staffing resources for cybersecurity that many private companies do.

At the same time, like hospitals and critical infrastructure, schools can't afford to be shut down for long, making it more likely that they will pay ransoms to get their systems unlocked. The pandemic and reliance on online learning have only boosted the stakes.

According to the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center, which tracks cyberattacks against schools, there were more than 400 publicly disclosed cyberattacks against schools in 2020, the most recent data available.