MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – A 16-year-old student was arrested early Thursday morning in connection with the cyberattacks against Miami-Dade County Public Schools, school officials confirmed.
District spokeswoman Jackie Calzadilla said Miami-Dade Schools Police traced an IP address responsible for the attacks to the student, identified in an arrest report as David Oliveros.
The teen is a junior at South Miami Senior High School.
According to Calzadilla, Oliveros confessed to “orchestrating eight Distributed Denial-of-Service cyber attacks, designed to overwhelm District networks, including web-based systems needed for My School Online.”
Oliveros has been released to his parents but will face charges of computer use in an attempt to defraud, which is a third-degree felony, and interference with an educational institution, which is a second-degree misdemeanor.
Calzadilla said Oliveros used an online application to carry out the attacks.
Police investigated the cyberattacks along with the FBI, the Secret Service and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
But while Superintendent of Schools Alberto Carvalho said Oliveros was responsible for at least eight of the attacks, they believe other players involved may be from foreign nations. There were possibly at least 12 attacks by noon Wednesday.
“We believe, based upon our investigation, that other attackers are out there,” M-DSPD Chief Edwin Lopez said in a statement. “We will not rest until every one of them is caught and brought to justice. 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.”
Calzadilla said the school district has been the target of more than a dozen cyberattacks since the 2020-2021 school year began.
“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.
Records show that Oliveros has no prior arrest history in the state of Florida.
At South Miami Senior High, the principal declined to talk about Oliveros. One staffer shared concerns that the junior — who turns 17 next month — is a scapegoat.
“We have a 16-year-old operating a complex system with the capability to dismantle the learning process for hundreds of thousands of students,” Lopez said.
Kevin Jarquin was awake when police came for his next-door neighbor before 3 a.m. Thursday. His and other neighbors’ sympathies are actually with Oliveros and his family.
“For him to be able to do that in a way is extraordinary — he has that kind of intelligence,” Jarquin said.
Another neighbor named Mary said Oliveros is “always in his house. He’s a good kid. Plays basketball, studies. Always with his family.”
On Wednesday, Carvalho said the attacks were partially to blame for the massive slow down students and teachers have been facing since Monday when it comes to online learning.
“Yesterday’s attacks, we know some of them came from outside of the country (and) we know some of these attacks came from local entities,” he said.
“It’s something that we have never dealt with, not only internally, but our local law enforcement partners haven’t either,” Lopez said.
The cyberattacks were part of the reason why it was announced Wednesday that teachers in grades 6 through 12 no longer had to use the K12 platform and are being allowed to now use Microsoft Teams to conduct online learning. Some parents told Local 10 News their children’s teachers were conducting classes via Zoom.
Carvalho held a news conference Thursday afternoon, at which time he confirmed that data servers were not penetrated Thursday. He said any issues reported Thursday were isolated and not systemic issues.
According to the superintendent, the school district received significantly fewer calls regarding any issues than earlier this week.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, (R-Fla.), who is also the acting chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has requested a briefing on the cyber attacks from Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf.
“As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives of millions of Americans, including the ability for children to attend school in person,” Rubio wrote in a letter to Wolf. “As a result, school districts across the nation have transitioned to online learning.
“As a father, I know firsthand the importance of having our children in school and learning, including a safe return to sports for our student athletes. However, it now appears that hostile actors, including foreign cybercriminals, are now targeting online classrooms in order to further disrupt the lives of Americans.”
Click here to read Rubio’s full letter to the DHS acting secretary.
Rubio also sent a letter Thursday to Carvalho, urging the superintendent to take advantage of federal resources available to assist in the school system’s efforts to secure its networks.
“According to media reports, it appears Miami-Dade schools have been the victim of Denial of Service attacks, which flooded your network and proved to be more data than it could handle. These types of attacks are among the most common and malicious cyber tactics and target all types of organizations, both in the public and private sector,” Rubio wrote. “Given the size and reach of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, I encourage you to avail yourself of federal resources available to assist in your efforts to secure your networks, including your virtual classrooms.”
Click here to read Rubio’s full letter to the superintendent.