Miami student charged in school cyberattacks

By Andrew Atterbury
A local high school student orchestrated the devastating cyberattacks that crippled Miami-Dade County’s first week of online classes, school officials said Thursday.
The 16-year-old junior at South Miami Senior High School was arrested early Thursday and charged with computer use in an attempt to defraud, a third-degree felony, and interference with an educational institution, a second-degree misdemeanor.
The student admitted to leading eight distributed-denial-of-service, or DDoS, cyberattacks against his school district, according to an affidavit filed by the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department.
“It is disheartening that one of our own students has admitted to intentionally causing this kind of disruption,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said in a statement. “However, I am confident that the M-DCPS family will continue to show its resilience and commitment to education, in the face of adversity.”
Context: Miami-Dade‘s first days of school have been hampered by technology woes stemming from more than a dozen cyberattacks. District leaders initially believed a software glitch was the sole cause of massive system failures that disrupted some 350,000 students as they attempted to log into online classes.
Carvalho on Tuesday said cyberattacks were torpedoing online classes, leading Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.) to request briefings from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI about school cybersecurity. The U.S. Secret Service and FBI were brought in to assist school district police, but investigators didn’t have to look far.
The school police warned on Thursday that other attackers likely are still “out there.”
How it happened: The DDoS attacks flooded the school district’s website with traffic that disrupted connectivity, keeping students and teachers locked out of their online programs and even basic email services.
On Thursday, Miami-Dade schools pivoted to other digital learning platforms, including Zoom and Microsoft Teams, as the district attempted to thwart the cyberattackers.
Miami-Dade, one of three Florida school districts beginning the year completely online due to Covid-19, is aiming to bring back in-person classes by Oct. 5.