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Miami-Dade Public Schools' remote learning platform endures days of cyberattacks

Some of the cyberattacks are local, while others have come from outside the United States.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho leans over to greet students remotely during a visit to Ms. Vanessa Acosta's first grade class at the Bob Graham Education Center on Aug. 31, 2020.Carl Juste / Miami Herald via AP

The Miami-Dade County Public School system in Florida dealt with a third day of cyberattacks on its online learning platform, which has impeded thousands of students from access to classes throughout the district's first week.

In a statement released Wednesday morning, the district said it “continues to be targeted by cyberattacks. Multiple attempts have been made this morning. The District’s security and safeguard measures have been successful thus far.”

The Miami Herald reported that the school district — the country's fourth largest — was hit with 12 cyberattacks Wednesday morning, some local and some from outside the United States.

Technical and connectivity issues occurred shortly after the first school day started Monday with hundreds of students and teachers unable to get through to the school’s online platform, My School Online.

In several scenarios during the first two days, teachers who could log onto the platform were met with only a handful of kids on their screens and had to resort to alternative platforms, like Zoom, to offer some form of instruction.

Some students who were unable to connect instead received a dark “please wait” screen, NBC station WTVJ reported.

Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho initially said the connection problems were due to a software malfunction, which was being resolved, but then announced Tuesday that several cyberattacks called a “distributed denial of service attack” were also part of the issue.

"There was a malicious attempt, malicious, well-orchestrated, complex attempt at derailing, destroying the connection which is essential for our students and teachers," Carvalho said.“Yesterday, I said I was frustrated and disappointed,” he said. “Today, I am frustrated and angry.”

According to a statement by the school Tuesday night, the attack was “a malicious attempt to disrupt the normal traffic of a network by overwhelming the target with a flood of Internet traffic.”

That attack, coupled with the software glitch, overwhelmed servers, he said.

While “additional mitigation strategies” were put in place by Comcast, the system’s internet service provider, several law enforcement agencies have been called to investigate the cyberattack, the district said. Comcast is the owner of NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News.

“The Miami Dade Schools Police Department is leading the criminal investigation and is working jointly with the U.S. Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation," the district said in a statement. "The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has also been notified. Investigators are seeking to identify the individuals responsible and pursue prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.”

While the cyberattacks created a “significant burden and caused massive disruption” to the district's web-based systems, the district said the attackers were unable to breach the system and no student or employee personal data was accessed.

Frustrations mounted throughout the week for teachers who felt their preparations were being derailed by the technical glitches.

“Our Miami-Dade education professionals have been working hard over the past two weeks, weekends included, to prepare for the start of the school year. It has been incredibly frustrating and disheartening to see how this program has failed them as well as our students and parents. Teachers have displayed an unbelievable amount of ingenuity and resilience over the past four months and our hope is that the district will be able to resolve these issues soon so that distance learning can be optimized,” United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats said in a statement Monday.

Numerous teachers called the issues a “mess” and complained that entire class periods were being wasted, the Miami Herald reported.

A teacher at a Miami area high school said she spent the entire first period of school trying to log on, getting sparse intermittent access to the platform, only to give up and start calling students’ parents to get them on Zoom, according to the Miami Herald.

The teacher’s union appeared much more hopeful Wednesday morning tweeting, “Good morning! Day 3 is upon us. Let’s see what it holds. Whatever happens, have faith it will all work itself out in the end. This too shall pass!”

The Miami-Dade Public School system, which has nearly 275,000 students and 20,000 teachers, opted to return with a remote model due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but said it will be reassessing health conditions at the end of the month to decide if in-person schooling is possible. The county must have achieved a sustained positivity rate of less than 10%, showing a trend toward 5 percent over a 14-day period, among other factors.