Computer Crime Research Center


Cybercrime can strike anywhere, experts say

Date: June 05, 2006
By: Chuck Biedka

The hacking of two public school computer systems in the past three weeks is a warning for computer users everywhere, cybercrime investigators said.

"Data is a commodity," said Don Blake, a computer expert for the National Education Association in Washington.

Hackers can get into all computers, but users can make access more difficult for them by frequently updating their protective measures.

He suggested that parents and teachers invite their community to have ownership of a school's Web site.

"Set expectations for the kids. Tell them what this is, what it means to them and what would happen if it's hacked," he said.

Blake suggested that districts get students and parents to sign voluntary pledges to not to access pornographic sites on school computers.

The Plum Borough School District's system was breached May 20 or 21, with the hacker leaving a brief message announcing the intrusion. No apparent harm was done. Although the Web site is back online, some links remain to be reconstructed.

The motive was more malicious at Highlands School District, where the hacker implanted a code. When someone accessed the school's Web page, the code secretly attached users to an unauthorized Web site, according to Management Information Systems director Paul Hoffman.

The hacker's goal was to grab personal information from the computers of unsuspecting users.

Hoffman said there is no evidence that the hacker siphoned any student or teacher information. He said an upgraded Highlands system was back online by Tuesday.

FBI Special Agent William Shore, who directs Pittsburgh's computer crimes task force, said identity thieves will search school system or other computers to glean information such as Social Security numbers and names.

Shore said improving technology can make it easier for hackers to access home, school or business information unless computer users have firewalls, filters and anti-virus protection.

It's also important to update software patches from software companies, said Ed McCavney, a former Duquesne University computer specialist who is the technology coordinator for the Hampton School District.

Some hackers look for high bandwidth and root access to add codes to use a someone else's computer "to do their dirty work," Shore said.

The task force, in one case, found that child pornography spam e-mail was being sent from the computer of a man who knew nothing about it, he said.

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