Metro school district working on cybersecurity after reports of hacking

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — The DeKalb County School District is making changes to student computer account passwords after reports of hacking.

One mother told Channel 2′s Mike Petchenik that when she got a call from her daughter’s assistant principal accusing her 10-year-old daughter of sending inappropriate messages to a teacher, she knew something wasn’t right.

“Once I found out what the comment was, I knew there was no way that, you know, my daughter had written that, and I immediately went to her computer, and began researching, going through all the Google classrooms,” the mother, who asked not to be identified, told Petchenik. “I found six or seven of the comments with extremely offensive and vulgar language, phrases that are inappropriate for 10-year-olds to be reading.”

She contacted the school district and shared her suspicion that someone had hacked her daughter’s account. She said an IT employee told her that it was quite easy to hack an account.

“Everyone in the fourth grade, all the students have the same password. And all the students in the second grade had the same password, you know, kindergarten, same password. But upon further research, I found out that it was district-wide,” she said.

Another mother told Petchenik that her 8-year-old’s account was hacked and someone was able to pipe in a robotic voice that disrupted her virtual classes.

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She provided video taken of one incident in which the voice repeatedly said “loser” over and over again during class.

“The person is talking directly to our child,” she said. “So we’re not sure if they can actually see her. But they’re saying hateful things to our eight-year-old.”

The mother told Petchenik even after the district “wiped” her daughter’s laptop, the problem persisted.

“We want our children to be protected,” she said. “That’s our number one thing. Whether they’re in school, or they’re at home doing it virtually, we want our children to be protected.”

DeKalb County Schools sent Petchenik a statement about the situation:

“For several years, DCSD Information Technology Division has provided generic passwords for all students in grades Pre-Kindergarten to five to assist teachers with the classroom management challenges that occur with younger students managing passwords. Elementary school students were primarily using their usernames and passwords at school under the supervision of the teacher. As the district shifted to a systemic one device per student model, the district began preparing to implement the critical strategy of providing individualized passwords for students in our elementary schools.

“The IT Division is aware of the challenge with students accessing other students accounts and is in the process of migrating all elementary student accounts to individualized passwords. Several schools have already tested the migration process with much success. As a result, the district is moving forward with implementing individualized passwords for all students in elementary schools.”

Parents who contacted Petchenik said this situation should have never happened.

“Why has this been allowed to happen all year when clearly people, you know, at the county level, knew about it?” said one mother. “What are they planning to do about it in the future to protect these students? And just who is protecting my child?”