NC school districts report virtual learning disruptions as hackers display inappropriate content, use foul language

Friday, August 21, 2020
Hackers disrupt NC school districts during online classes
North Carolina school districts continue to report virtual disruptions as groups hack their way into lessons and use offensive language towards students and teachers or display inappropriate content.

Some school districts in North Carolina are reporting disruptions during virtual classes.

At least 20 staffers at Millbrook Magnet High School in Raleigh reported their live instructions were disrupted when intruders got access to their classes this week.

The school website says a group of students "used inappropriate and offensive language as well as insulted students and teachers directly."

A virtual class at Oberlin Magnet Middle School was also disrupted Tuesday and there were similar problems at Lee County High School in Sanford, part of Lee County Schools, and Southeast Middle School in Kernersville, part of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.

The Wake County Public School System said the issues at Millbrook Magnet High and Oberlin Magnet Middle were caused by links to Google Meet sessions being posted where people who weren't in the class could find them. A district spokesman said the schools are taking steps to make sure it doesn't happen again and that those links won't be shared with anyone not in the classes.

A district spokesman said two students were identified connected to the Millbrook Magnet High situation and that their parents were notified.

"No one's disturbed me," said Bryanne Johnson, 15, a student at Enloe Magnet High School. "It's all normal. Everything's going good."

While Johnson hasn't had any disruptions in her virtual classes, her father has discussed this with her.

"Now she knows that it could happen through her schoolwork and through her internet connection with her teachers," father A.C. Johnson said. "It's very concerning that even in today's world, some of the best companies with the highest of security are being hacked. So this is no surprise to us. It's no surprise to me that this is happening. It is discerning and I hope they can increase their security."

Maria Thompson, State Chief Risk and Security Officer, with the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, said parents can use this as a teachable moment so students know what to do if they experience these disruptions.

"Report things that doesn't seem quite right, report students or potential intruders that are not students within your classroom to a teacher or a parent so that we can shut it down before it becomes a larger issue," Thompson said.

She also has these tips:

"You want to make sure that you're taking these steps such as not publishing the passwords for these things, making sure that you're vetting the folks that are coming into these calls so that you know exactly who's participating at any given time," Thompson said. "Little small things such as the use of passwords can really prohibit somebody."

Thompson recommends not reusing passwords and only sending them to those you want to attend meetings.

A Lee County Schools spokeswoman said their disruption was also in a Google Meets session. In a statement, the district said a non-student account gained access to an online class at Lee County High School on Monday, sharing inappropriate content. The teacher removed the person as quickly as possible.

"It appears that this was an inadvertent approval of an outside address requesting access; however, the incident is currently under investigation by both law enforcement and the district's technology department..." the statement read. "We take the security of online classes very seriously and are reviewing all protocols with staff to make sure this does not happen again."

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools (WS/FCS) said Southeast Middle School in Kernersville experienced the disruption, "during a virtual art class a participant in the class began yelling obscenities and making inappropriate gestures. The teacher was able to shut down the ZOOM meeting."

The district said the student attends a school in the district and that they're investigating how the individual was able to access the virtual class. Parents of students in the class have been notified about the incident.

The district statement said in part: "WS/FCS does not condone disruptive or obscene behavior of any kind at school or during virtual class sessions. The district takes all such matters seriously and apologizes for the disruption. WS/FCS would like to remind students and parents that links to specific class meetings should remain only with the participants involved in the virtual class."