Escalation in network attacks by pupils on school systems
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Escalation in network attacks by pupils on school systems

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The number of network attacks targeting schools’ systems is on the rise, particularly in secondary schools, according to Smartbit, the company behind Smartschool, the digital platform used by many Flemish schools.

Schools are increasingly reporting attacks on the DDoS network, which stands for Distributed Denial of Service, in which the attacker tries to make the website inaccessible to other users by sending data traffic towards a modem/router, or more generally a website or digital platform.

“Several schools have reported that their own students carry out these attacks. We recognise a clear pattern in the timing of the attacks, as they coincide with class hours and school days,” a press release stated.

According to Smartbit, distance learning is behind this increase in network attacks, which is considered a cybercrime and is punishable by law.

The platform itself has also been bombarded with network attacks – during the cooling-off week before the Carnival holiday alone, it registered 42 attacks, but these had a limited impact on the platform’s functioning because of the system’s specialised security.

“However, schools’ internet connections often do not have this protection and are therefore extra vulnerable to DDoS network attacks. These attacks are worrying developments, and we think it is important to draw attention to this and to warn against it,” the company said.

One school in Leopoldsburg-Tessenderlo was experiencing regular breakdowns of its school network, which meant that the 1500 pupils and 200 staff no longer had access to the platform, mostly for up to 10 to 15 minutes, sometimes up to eight times a day.

“After some investigating, we found out it was a 15-year-old student who deliberately launched DDoS attacks on the school’s network in order to block access. The school has now filed an insurance claim for approximately €220,000. We were amazed that a pupil could achieve this,” said Davy Mellemans, finance and IT director at the school.

Smartbit is urging policymakers to create a better legal framework so that additional measures can be taken to block the rogue online tools used for these attacks.

“This is necessary if we want to call a halt to this problem, which confronts schools on a daily basis. We need to tackle this problem together and educate our young people digitally as well. In a society that is rapidly digitising, this is essential,” the statement read.

Lauren Walker
The Brussels Times