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January 31st, 2009

School Websites In UK Turned Into Pornography Hosters By Hackers

Several primary school websites have been targeted by hackers who have uploaded pornography onto their pages. The Times Educational Supplement (TES) has reported that 20 schools may have been targeted by the hackers. The explicit material is not thought to be accessible from within the schools as they are protected by firewalls.

The hackers have targeted a virtual learning service used by a number of schools across the country. The scam works when a computer user enters the school name on a web search. Among one of the many search results returned will be the bogus site and when this is selected, hard-core pornography will appear.
St Dunstan’s Primary in Birmingham is one of the schools targeted. Head teacher at the school Tony Kenny said the link had now been removed and he didn’t believe that anyone had accessed the website. “Once we’ve known about it we’ve acted straight away to get it removed”.

Software company WebAnywhere is web developer for a large proportion of schools across the UK. Sean Gilligan, managing director of the company, said: “In the last five years we have provided more than 2,000 schools with a website”.

The problem is believed to have started when some users continued to work with old software instead of obtaining newer versions from Moodle. Moodle is a free online package used by millions across the world which enables students and teachers to communicate with each other. Moodle company founder Martin Dougiamas told the TES: “All known vulnerabilities have been fixed and we’ve released lots of new versions of Moodle. But that doesn’t mean schools have upgraded to the latest versions. Schools often don’t have very good IT support and neglect this kind of vital maintenance, even though we try to notify them.”

The issue might raise concerns among parents as students may inadvertently access the pornographic images when searching for information about their school when using computers not based at the building.

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