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State Police cyber unit investigating hackings in school districts across the state

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WEST HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — A cyber investigation is underway across the state after more schools are reporting issues with their internet connection.

It’s been happening more and more frequently at different districts as more schools move to remote or hybrid learning.

In West Hartford, some schools reported losing internet at least three or four times this week. The school system servers in Hamden were also attacked by hackers earlier this week. And in Hartford earlier this month, the city servers fell victim to a ransomware attack, which delayed the start of the school year.

RELATED: On the heels of ransomware attack on Hartford Public Schools, a warning from cybersecurity experts

It’s been frustrating for students and staff, but now state police are stepping in to look at the claims.

“We have tons of cyber attacks coming in every single day,” Dave Palmbach, Cyber Intelligence Analyst with Connecticut State Police, told News 8. “One day it’s ransomware. The next day it’s DDOS attacks, the next, it’s phishing emails, the Zoom bombing over the summer. It is a very dynamic criminal network.”

The cyber intelligence unit within the state police sent out a warning to schools last week. Hackers are targeting districts statewide with what they are calling a “DDOS attack.”

“It is a distributed denial of services,” Palmbach explained. “It’s an attack where a hacker dumps in tons and tons of traffic into the network so much so that nothing gets out.”

State police said there are different levels and hacking. Some are more professional hackers from overseas trying to extort money from the school systems, while others are just kids messing around.

Either way, they said they are on the case and they are looking at all of the information trying to track them down.

“You can have some very small ones that last a couple of minutes and then there are some very sophisticated ones that can knock Fortune 500 companies offline for days on end,” Palmbach said.

In West Hartford, teachers were prepared, within a half an hour many found a workaround and got back online to teach their students.

“We didn’t get back up in that classroom, but after that class, they used hotspots on their phones and so we had the next class,” said West Hartford freshman, Hannah Schoen. “Everything ran smoothly after that.”

But still, students said missing any class is very difficult because now with hybrid learning, every minute in front of a teacher counts.

“If you’re not understanding the material or if you’re unsure of anything, it’s hard to just skip that class because as it is we don’t have a lot of time with our teacher, and then for that to be taken away, it is hard,” said freshman Mackinsey Wilson.

The Connecticut State Police Cyber Investigations Unit is embedded with the FBI. They work hand-in-hand trying to catch these hackers, and if you do get caught for hacking — depending on how much damage you have done and how often you do it — it can be a felony and you can face and very serious charges.

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