Freshwater Education District
The Freshwater Education District (FED) is a special education consortium that serves 13 member school districts in Minnesota. The district was created to share, improve and expand educational resources among member schools with the goal of offsetting the costs of each district paying for such services individually. FED provides special education, alternative learning centers, early childhood family education, school readiness, adult basic education, technical education and more. Collectively, an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 students have access to FED’s services.
- Long Prairie-Grey Eagle
- Wadena-Deer Creek
- New York Mills
Network at a glance
Fiber connects Freshwater’s main administration facility, offices in Wadena and Staples and three Area Learning Centers in Long Prairie, Menahga and Pillager. Some of FED’s member districts receive a direct fiber connection through FED’s internet switch, while others maintain their own separate Local Area Networks and redundant connections.
Freshwater’s fiber network is always hard at work, delivering service to an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 students and about 1,000 staff, faculty, educators and providers. The internet drives nearly every process from education to administration.
From the front office to the classrooms, fiber connects a busy network of user devices and tech, ranging from Chromebooks, iPads, cloud-based applications, smartphones, streaming media and a dense network of WiFi access points that are ready at any moment to connect users on the go.
“With the Chromebooks (and other connected devices), if you don’t have internet, you don’t have anything,” said Rich Murdock, Freshwater’s Technology Coordinator and Network Administrator. “Students can’t get to their documents or applications without it. It’s that important to have internet.”
Murdock and his team oversee FED’s primary internet network at the Wadena facilities and manage its servers, user devices and other technology, as well as the switch-enabled connections that FED provides to member districts. Overall management of each district’s IT networks is handled by their own internal teams.
In 2020, just one week into the start of a new school year, Murdock was notified about a problem with the internet at one of the consortium’s schools.
“Their internet was up for five seconds—then boom— it would go back down,” Murdock said. “Up and down. Nobody could do anything on the internet.”
The issue showed all the red flags of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. It lasted two days, tossing the school’s internet connectivity into disarray and interrupting a host of crucial operations in the building.
Cybercriminals deploy DDoS attacks to take down a target’s websites, servers or network with an intentional barrage of phony web traffic—preventing access from legitimate users. The aim is to overwhelm the target with a deluge of access requests—sometimes tens of thousands at one time. The illegitimate traffic, sent by groups of malware-infected computers called botnets, is streamed in until the network’s bandwidth is saturated, causing the overloaded site to deny service, crash or slow down significantly.
“It’s getting to be where the internet is just as important as heat or electricity in the school,” Murdock said. “If they can’t get on the internet, you might as well turn the lights off and send them home because nothing’s going to get done.”
Immediately after the incident, the school integrated a DDoS mitigation service into its network to prevent such attacks from happening again. Murdock took action, too, exploring preventative solutions to protect FED’s own network from a similar attack.
For Murdock, the attack hit too close to home. Had the affected district been connected through Freshwater’s internet switch, FED could have been targeted in the same way.
“Once your internet is getting knocked down by a DDoS attack, it’s too late,” Murdock said. “I called (Arvig) and said, ‘I cannot have that happen here. What do I have to do to get that service turned on? It doesn’t matter what it costs anymore. We have to have that.’”
Arvig’s Proactive DDoS Mitigation uses advanced filters to analyze web traffic, discard malicious requests and allow legitimate traffic to proceed. Proactive DDoS Mitigation is a highly effective management strategy for these evolving threats.
“A DDoS attack can be targeted on a single website or an entire network, rendering it extremely slow, completely unusable or causing it to crash entirely,” said Eric Wilkens, Director of Cybersecurity at Arvig. “The real target, however, is the organization itself, and the main motivation is to hijack a company’s internet bandwidth.”
Schools aren’t the only entities that bad actors set their sights on. E-commerce companies, tech firms, internet service providers and government entities are just a few other high-profile DDoS targets.
“Cyber criminals know how vital the internet is, and their aim is to cause temporary distraction, long-term inconvenience or even something more malicious, like extortion,” Wilkens said. “If an organization isn’t ready to counter these threats, it can be devastating.”
For the Freshwater Education District, DDoS has had an immediate impact. So far, the service has paid for itself in peace-of-mind alone, Murdock said.
“I sleep way better at night having DDoS,” he said. “I tell the other techs, ‘we have DDoS protection and we don’t have to worry about that on our internet connection.’ I love being able to say that. It’s worth every penny to have that protection.”