What to Know
- Authorities have arrested a 16-year-old student who they say is responsible for a series of cyber attacks on Miami-Dade Public Schools
- The teen, a junior at South Miami Senior High School, is facing multiple charges
- Officials said the district has been the target of more than a dozen distributed denial of service attacks since the 2020-2021 school year began
A student has been arrested in connection with a series of cyber attacks on Miami-Dade County Public Schools that have disrupted the district's first week of online classes.
The student, a 16-year-old junior at South Miami Senior High School, was arrested Thursday morning and faces charges of computer use in an attempt to defraud and interference with an educational institution, district officials said.
Officials said the district has been the target of more than a dozen distributed denial of service attacks since the 2020-2021 school year began.
MDCPS Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the district suffered a DDoS attack on the first day of distance learning Monday morning as a software glitch blocked access to the district’s servers. The glitch and DDoS attack rendered multiple online school district features useless and teaching nearly impossible, as the district moved to online learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The FBI and Secret Service were called in to investigate along with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Carvalho said. He added that the glitch had been completely resolved and optimized.
"I commend our detectives, the FBI, Secret Service, and FDLE for their tireless efforts to pursue those responsible for these attacks. It is disheartening that one of our own students has admitted to intentionally causing this kind of disruption, however, I am confident that the M-DCPS family will continue to show its resilience and commitment to education, in the face of adversity," Carvalho said in a statement Thursday.
Detectives were able to trace an IP address responsible for the attacks to the teen's home, officials said. The teen admitted to using a tool to attack the district's computer network, an arrest report said.
Officials said the teen is responsible for at least eight of the attacks, and investigators are working to determine whether other individuals besides the teen are responsible.
"We believe, based upon our investigation, that other attackers are out there. We will not rest until every one of them is caught and brought to justice," Miami-Dade Schools Police Chief Edwin Lopez said in a statement. "Cyber attacks are serious crimes, which have far-reaching negative impacts. Our message to anyone thinking of attempting a criminal act like this is to think twice. We will find you."
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Carvalho said investigators confiscated some devices from the teen that were being forensically analyzed. Carvalho said the last attack on the district's system happened around 3 a.m. Thursday.
Carvalho also added that there were possible cyber attacks coming from foreign nations, including potentially Russia, Ukraine, China, Iraq and maybe others.
"These attacks are sophisticated, they are relentless, and they have a deep impact but the acquisition of the resources to launch them isn’t that difficult," Carvalho said.
One of the charges the teen faces is a third-degree felony that, if prosecutors moved him to adult court, could result in up to five years in prison. The Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office said no decision has been made on that.
Carvalho said students and teachers should have an easier time accessing the system Friday.
"I expect, as we had today, continuous improvement of the experience for the students going into tomorrow, the system today was much more stable," he said. “We are in a a process right now obviously of trying to understand better the percentage of culpability and responsibility attributable to the new platform with its inherent first day glitches versus the interference caused by these DDOS attacks.”