17 August 2020

Explicit material sent to students after Education Directorate email lists deciphered

| Dominic Giannini
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Yvette Berry

Education Minister Yvette Berry said no external body hacked or exported information from the education system. Photo: Region Media.

A breach of the Education Directorate’s email distribution list, which resulted in pornography and inappropriate material being sent to public school students, occurred after some students were able to figure out the email address codes.

One student accidentally sent an email to the entire Year 8 public school cohort when trying to share work with his class on Friday (14 Friday). From there, students were able to decipher what the distribution list emails were and used them to send emails to other cohorts, Education Minister Yvette Berry confirmed.

“It appears these students copied the inappropriate material from private devices because content like pornography cannot be accessed from within the ACT public schools network,” the Education Minister said in a statement.

“The Education Directorate moved quickly to shut the system down at 13:00, including student email and the Google platform. No external body has hacked or exported information from the system.

“The Education Directorate also notified the eSafety Commissioner and is examining how to supplement existing eSafety support for students and families.”

Both the Australian Federal Police and ACT Policing have been notified about the incident while an independent audit will be carried out.

There will be some disruption to the service for students returning to school today (17 August) and student email accounts will be suspended until at least the end of the week.

Students should regain access to Google Drive and Google Classroom by the end of the day.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the incident was disappointing but was not highly sophisticated.

“Even I could have hit reply-all to an email,” he said.

“It is disappointing on a number of levels that access to a group email was obtained, a distribution list, and then individuals took it upon themselves to distribute material that was entirely inappropriate.

“The nature of a digital world is that all of this is easily traceable and identifiable and so the Education Directorate will be responding to those matters.”

Inappropriate material is being removed from all student email accounts and extra measures are being put in place to ensure students do not have access to email distribution lists in the future, Ms Berry said.

“I understand that this incident has caused some anxiety for some students and families and that it has disrupted students being able to study effectively during this time,” she said.

“Student wellbeing is the priority and I have asked the Directorate to ensure that robust controls are in place and have been thoroughly tested before returning student access back to the system.”

An extensive range of free e-safety resources for parents and children can be accessed on the eSafety Commissioner website.

Original Article published by Dominic Giannini on The RiotACT.

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