Already hobbled by distant studying, colleges confront a rising drawback: hackers.

American officials warned Thursday that hackers are targeting K-12 schools in a new wave of cyberattacks disrupting distance learning even as coronavirus cases surge across the country.

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity jointly warned of a new wave of ransomware and so-called DDoS or distributed denial-of-service attacks on K-12 schools that are slowing or disrupting access for students and teachers to distance learning .

Some of the hackers behind the ransomware held school data hostage or threatened to lose confidential student data if payment was not made.

Last month the attacks took more than a hundred schools in Baltimore offline. They also hit dozens of schools in Texas and Alabama, as well as a handful of schools in Georgia and Ohio, according to public reports from Emsisoft, a security firm.

More than half of all ransomware attacks reported to a tiered analytics center in August and September involved attacks on K-12 schools.

“Schools have always been targets because they are very likely to pay a modest ransom to get their data back,” said Alex Holden, CEO of Hold Security, who specializes in cybercrime.

The FBI has advised ransomware victims not to pay, but some schools are ignoring this advice.

Officials in Yazoo County, Miss., Recently announced they paid $ 300,000 to recover data from a ransomware attack last October. In July, officials in Athens, Texas, paid $ 50,000 to prevent their data from being published online.

Cybersecurity experts say K-12 schools are particularly at risk as younger children are not as knowledgeable about password management and don’t click on phishing emails.

Many school districts have partnered with FireEye, the security firm that will provide school districts in Texas and elsewhere with access to their security tools by the end of 2020. However, earlier this week FireEye announced that its systems had been penetrated by hackers from the nation-state that appeared to be Russian.

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