© 2023 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Nunn announces bipartisan plan to prevent school cyberattacks

U.S. Rep. Zach Nunn discusses a new bill aimed at preventing cyberattacks against schools with Des Moines Interim Superintendent Matt Smith.
Grant Gerlock
U.S. Rep. Zach Nunn discusses a new bill aimed at preventing cyberattacks against schools with Des Moines Interim Superintendent Matt Smith.

Third District Congressman Zach Nunn is supporting federal legislation aimed at preventing school cyberattacks like the one that canceled classes for Des Moines students for two days earlier this year.

The measure would make federal officials available to advise school districts on ways to improve network security and respond to hacking attempts. Nunn described it as a 911 call center for school cyberattacks. The bill would also create a voluntary registry to gather information about attacks happening nationwide.

Nunn said that could help prevent attacks from being repeated.

“One school could be hit by a cyberattack and, without reporting that or being advised of what to do, that same breach could be replicated in the next school over, and the next school over and a crescendo effect happens,” he said.

Nunn announced the proposal with DMPS Interim Superintendent Matt Smith, who said the district is still working to recover and restore systems that were affected by the cyberattack in January. Smith said schools are having to invest more into cybersecurity to prevent and recover from hacks into their systems.

“To continue to be able to reach out to these cyber experts to talk about how we actually mitigate and prevent attacks in the future, that’s where school districts are having to spend some dollars,” Smith said. “And that financial burden on school districts is not money going into the classrooms to serve children and teaching them learning.”

Families who had personal data exposed through the network breach will likely receive letters from the district in the next few weeks, Smith said.

Similar attacks have been reported in the Linn-Mar, Cedar Rapids, Davenport and Glenwood school districts in Iowa. Hackers are targeting schools nationwide, Nunn said, because so many devices are connected to their networks and people are often moving between home internet and school.

“Threat actors know that the soft targets right now are schools and they’re going after them aggressively,” Nunn said. “We have to make sure schools have the best Kevlar possible when being able to defend against this.”

Rep. Nunn will introduce the school cybersecurity bill in the U.S. House of Representatives with California Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui. In the Senate, the measure is backed by Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner and Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa