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'We Are Currently Under A Cyber Attack': For A Third Day, Online Education Disrupted In Miami-Dade

Alberto Carvalho 8_31 press conference Miami Herald.jpeg
Daniel A Varela/Miami Herald
Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho speaks at a press conference on Aug. 31, 2020, recounting the software outage that hindered connection to online learning for thousands of students and teachers on the first day of the 2020-21 school year.

A combination of cyber attacks and software glitches have disturbed the first week of online classes for 275,000 students in district schools.

Cyber attacks have plagued online learning for a third day in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, as the school board debated who to blame and how to fix it.

“Right now, we are currently under a cyber attack," Chief Academic Officer Marie Izquierdo told school board members during a virtual committee meeting Wednesday. By the time she gave that update, the district had already fended off a dozen cyber attacks throughout the morning, she said.

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They are distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. Put simply, requests are being launched from many different points of origin at the same time, attempting to overload the district’s data center and keep students and teachers from logging on for online classes.

“It’s fake traffic. A million people are knocking on your door, trying to get in,” Izquierdo explained to board members during the meeting.

With workarounds, the district has been able to continue offering classes to most students, but administrators have not yet figured out a permanent solution.

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said complex, sophisticated attacks like these are rare, and the only time the district had suffered them before was during the 2015 administration of Florida's state exams. That year, the tests were offered online for the first time, and they were based on the controversial Common Core standards for the first time — and they crashed throughout the state as cyber attackers wreaked havoc.

Izquierdo placed part of the blame on the internet provider Comcast.

“On Monday, when we were getting attacked, the symptoms indicated that we were, in fact, under a cyber attack. We immediately contacted Comcast, and they said there was no evidence of that," she said. "Those were dozens of calls. We followed the protocols that we are supposed to follow with this provider, who is paid by this board to mitigate and essentially stop any cyber attack."

Mindy Kramer, vice president of public relations for Comcast in Florida, responded in a statement: “We are continuing to monitor the situation and are working closely with the school district and law enforcement. We sincerely apologize to the families, teachers and students who were kept offline.”

The cyber attacks happened alongside software glitches affecting the district’s new online education provider, K12, which was on a state-approved list.

“You know what? The state has other providers on that list,” school board member Lubby Navarro said during Wednesday’s meeting, suggesting the district consider ditching the third-party provider.

Carvalho said he hasn’t yet signed the $15 million contract with the company, which Navarro said “is actually a good thing.”