Computer hackers used the Berkeley Unified School District’s network to transmit pornographic images last year, according state and district officials.
The district does not know who broke into the school system last December, but officials said evidence suggests that it was done by outsiders from a remote location. A state technology consultant has since put in place security measures to prevent external use of the district network.
In a separate development, the state consultant, Director of Technology Philip Scrivano of the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team, learned in December that unlike most state schools, no filters existed in Berkeley to block students and staff from viewing on-line pornography. Filters have been put in place since the revelation.
School board President Shirley Issel said she was pleased that the district implemented filtering technology, but does not believe students were making heavy use of pornographic web sites before the installation of filters.
“I just don’t see kids working on computers unsupervised,” said Issel. “[But] since you can’t watch all screens at all the times, I think getting some filters on is a safeguard that I’m glad is in place.”
Superintendent Michele Lawrence said she was pleased that FCMAT, which has been advising the troubled district on budget and technical issues for almost a year, was able to remedy the district’s hacking and filter problems.
The problems surfaced Wednesday night, during a Board of Education meeting, when Scrivano made a presentation about his eight-month effort to improve security, increase bandwidth and cut costs for the district’s computer network.
FCMAT Deputy Executive Officer Joel Montero said the network upgrade began in December after his agency discovered that the system was running unusually slow.
An investigation into the matter revealed two basic problems. First the district’s system was disjointed and needed a significant overhaul.
Second, FCMAT discovered a “Code Red” virus, implanted by hackers, that allowed them to use district systems for the transmission of pornographic images.
FCMAT moved immediately to cut off the hackers and improve system security by replacing a porous “firewall” that had allowed hackers to get into the network.
“We had to lock down right away,” said Montero.
FCMAT proceeded to replace an inefficient and costly computer network that used 18 separate T1 data lines, replacing it with a single “seamless” fiber optic network that is scheduled to go into full swing this weekend.
Montero said each of the 18 T1 lines in the old system cost the district $300 per month. The single DS3 line that has replaced the 18 old cables costs less than one T1.
The network clean-up has cost the district somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000 according to district and FCMAT estimates. But both district and state officials are predicting significant short- and long-term savings with the system upgrade.
Scott Sexsmith, president of the California Educational Data Processing Association, said Berkeley’s addition of filters to protect children from pornographic web sites puts the district in line with nearly every other school system in the state.
Sexsmith said districts moved toward filtering after federal legislation, called the Child Internet Protection Act, passed in 2000. The law requires schools to use filtering software to receive federal funds for computers or Internet access.
With the filters in place, Berkeley Unified has obtained funding for the DS3 line through the federal government’s e-Rate program, which provides deep discounts on infrastructure.