MCPS orders teachers to change passwords
Montgomery County school officials are ordering all employees to create new computer passwords after students hacked into the computers at Churchill High School to change grades.
The Montgomery County Parents’ Coalition, tireless watchdogs of the Weast administration, have obtained an e-mail sent to all employees in the school system from from Chief Technology Officer Sherwin A. Collette, with a subject line that says: ACTION REQUIRED: Network Security Measures
The e-mail reads in part:
“This is to notify you that over the next few days all employees will be prompted to change their password when logging on to their Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) computer. This password is the same as your Outlook password. All passwords used to log on to MCPS computers will expire by Wednesday, February 10, 2010. It is important that you follow the instructions on the screen when prompted to change your password. Your new password should be at least eight characters long and contain at least one capital letter and one number. These new guidelines strengthen your password and are consistent with mandatory password requirements that had been scheduled to begin in March 2010 for all current employees. Please see Attachment A to view instructions for changing your password. Along with the new password formatting requirements, employees will be required to change their passwords at least every 120 days. At any time, if you believe your password has been compromised, you should change it immediately and notify your supervisor.”
It turns out that the Churchill incident wasn’t the only time in recent months that kids have hacked into school computers in the county; at Whitman High School, the student newspaper black&white reported on Sept. 30, 2009, that a student had broken through the security barriers on Whitman’s Pinnacle grading system and changed some grades.
That story quoted assistant principal Jennifer Webster as saying that officials were using the incident to tighten up security on the system. In this case, Webster said, the student did not get into the system through a staff member’s network account.
The story said the student was disciplined “accordingly.” I asked district officials what action was taken against the student but haven’t yet heard back. It seems to me that kids who hack into a school's computer system ought to be expelled from the school. (Do you agree?)
At Churchill, my colleagues Michael Birnbaum and Jenna Johnson reported that about a half-dozen students appear to be involved in the hacking scheme, which, officials said, may have involved the installation of equipment on teachers’ computers that could obtain the passwords used to access the online grading system.
I initially thought the kids who did this must be pretty clever, but I’ve been disabused of that notion; YouTube offers users their pick of videos on how to hack into a school computer.
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| February 4, 2010; 12:30 PM ET
Categories: Montgomery County Public Schools | Tags: computer hacking, montgomery county public schools
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