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By NICK BOWMAN
Daily News Staff Writer
Students at Schoenbar Middle School employed some tried-and-true trickery to gain administrative access to school-owned laptop computers, officials said on Monday.
Schoenbar Principal Casey Robinson said students alerted him to the misdeeds on Monday, when it was discovered that students had been making changes to their classmates’ computers remotely. It was then that the school began seizing all 300 of its computers loaned to students.
District Technology Supervisor Jurgen Johannsen said at least 18 students were involved in the hacking, and gained deeper access to computers by tricking their teachers into providing their account information. Johannsen was unsure of how many teachers had been fooled.
Students regularly ask a teacher to enter account information to update software on the machines, according to Johannsen. In this case, teachers were presented with a display that looked "exactly like" the software update screen, but was in fact a request for administrative access.
It was "basically a bit of a hijack," he said. Johannsen said he was familiar with the idea since the 1980s, and called it "social hacking" — also called social engineering. The goal is personal information — passwords, phone numbers, financial information — obtained by requesting seemingly innocent information or by impersonation.
The trick was found out when the students began fiddling with their classmates’ desktops. Schoenbar teachers can remotely access student computers, and with, greater access, so could some students.
Johannsen described it as the "most creative of solutions to hack machines" being sunk by the "most rookie of mistakes" — messing with a classmate’s stuff.
A good thing the mistakes stopped at the rookie — Robinson said all of school servers and information were untouched. As of Monday, there was no damage to school property.
The district isn’t concerned that "any of the systems were hacked, or that (students) gained access to things they shouldn’t have," like records or grades, Johannsen said, adding that students only gained special access to the laptops.
Robinson said the school had pulled all of its 300 laptops to examine what — if anything — had been altered. Students would be given the chance to retrieve their schoolwork from the laptops, he added.
Johannsen said he’s put three technicians to work going through the machines and expected the process to take the rest of the week. He said he wouldn’t know when the laptops would be returned until the end of the week.
Robinson was surprised that something like this hadn’t happened before.
"Kids are being kids," he said. "They’re going to try to do what they try to do. This time we found out about it."
Robinson said the school "hasn’t gotten" to consequences for students involved in the hacking, but pointed to the district’s code for computer use.
"When we get to that point, we’ll follow that policy," he said.
But he was unequivocal about the students who reported the mischief.
"We’ve got some really good kids here," he said. "Kids are the eyes and ears for that ... when they know something’s not right, they let an adult know."