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NEWBERG, OR (KPTV) — It’s happening across the nation: virtual classrooms being hit by hackers.
Here in Oregon, someone is accused of exposing themselves on a call to children, and now hackers are accused of making racial slurs and comments online.
In a note to Newberg and Dundee parents, the superintendent of Newberg Public Schools wrote, “We have experienced some incidents of unidentified individuals spewing racist slurs and racist talk into Google Meet class sessions.”
“We had heard that this was a possibility before we had an incident ourselves,” said Greg Koskela, Communications and Community Relations Coordinator for Newberg Public Schools.
Koskela tells FOX 12 the district did a lot of work before the start of school to try and prevent hacking, like teachers being the only ones able to admit someone into a virtual classroom.
“We had worked hard on that and trained all our staff on these procedures and those were working well and what has happened as time has gone on, is similar to other districts, people will get access to class logs, links and will create accounts where they come in pretending to be someone who should be in the class and that’s what happened in this case,” said Koskela.
Since the incident, Koskela said they’ve had to rethink their online security.
“What our tech department has come up with is we have created a new procedure that our teachers are using, that the only way you can get into Google Meet is if you are pre-assigned to belong in it,” said Koskela. “So, everything is linked to the students district-given email source and that’s the only way for them to get in.”
“It puts a little more burden on our teachers who have to do more work setting those meetings and makes it a little more difficult for people, who you know, might be logging in from a parent’s computer and they’re not on their student ID and have to switch over to that,” continued Koskela. “So, just trying to find that balance between those things.”
Steve Langford is Chief Information Officer for the Beaverton School District. He said the district hasn’t had any attacks this year, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t trying.
“We do get accounts that we’re notified that could be compromised due to a phish,” said Langford. “In that instance, we immediately take steps to isolate that account, change the password, inform the user and that I think is happening to many districts around the country as well.”
Langford said the district tried to prepare for potential cyber-attacks before the school year.
“We’ve increased the log in capability from reactive to proactive monitoring,” said Langford. “So for example, if we see a log in from a student or a staff, and we see that log in here in Beaverton and we see within minutes, a log in from any other place on the planet, we’re able then to determine that’s not the student logging in multiple times or the staff member.”
But Langford said user awareness is one of the most important ways to combat hacking.
“Something very important that we share with our students and staff is the need to protect your identity, both as an employee and as a student in a school district and then also personally as well, and so we focus in on making sure they’re aware of common phishing attempts, being very suspicious about phishing, don’t use the same password for multiple applications and never ever share your password,” said Langford.
As for Newberg Public Schools, Koskela said they’re confident the new safety measures will help keep kids safe.
“My heart is just going out to our teachers and to our families and students right now that it is such a difficult time,” said Koskela. “It really saddens and angers me that this is kind of an added layer of frustration and really harm and I’m really grateful for how much hard work our teachers are doing to try and make it a good experience for students and I’m totally impressed with our families just being able to dive in and enter this the best they can, so kudos to them and hopefully we have a little bit of smoother sailing from here on out.”
FOX 12 also reached out to Portland Public Schools, the biggest district in the state, to see what it is doing to protect students from hackers.
A spokesperson said in a statement, “The online classroom environments certainly pose different challenges when we think about how to make sure classes are safe compared to our in person classrooms. IT has put a number of safeguards in place including only allowing the meeting organizer, usually a teacher, to admit external parties to join Zoom or Meets. In order to facilitate the vast spectrum of educational needs, these defaults may be altered by the teacher if their lesson requires. We have provided additional training with video and tips for teachers to help prevent uninvited parties from joining.”
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