WHEELING, W.Va. — A Wheeling area high school student was recently able to invade the public education computer network and slow things down including standardized testing that was happening in some counties at the time.
West Virginia Department of Education Chief Technology Officer Sterling Beane said it happened last week when the student used an off-shore computer hacking company to implant a denial-of-service bug that impacted WVNET.
“Sadly these things are on the rise and the level of technical expertise required to pull one of these off is extremely low. It’s disruption for hire,” Beane said Wednesday on MetroNews Talkline. “Someone renting time on one of these botnet services did disrupt operation of the schools’ network.”
Beane said the slowdown of the system lasted for about 20 minutes. He said it didn’t take long for IT specialists with WVNET and the state Department of Education to isolate the computer where the botnet was coming from, but he said until that happened there were problems in the system.
“It overwhelms the bandwidth on the targeted system and that’s where the ‘denial-of-service’ comes into play. They are not trying to steal your information, but they are trying to be disruptive,” he said.
The student has been identified and the information turned over to the Ohio County school system for possible discipline.
Reports indicate botnet has been used in other states by opponents of the Common Core teaching standards to stop standardized testing. Beane said there’s no proof of that in West Virginia. He said Ohio County was not doing standardized testing at the time the problem occurred, but other counties were impacted.
“If there were testing going on in any part of the state that was being fed by that particular section of the network it would have been affected,” Beane said.
Botnets are a common problem. Beane said there are more than 2,000 attacks a day nationwide. He said it’s a constant battle for the state Department of Education.
“It’s an arms-race,” Beane concluded. “The equipment to block it and deal with it gets more sophisticated and then the hackers themselves find ways around that. It’s just a constant loop that you’re in to try and stay ahead of one another.”