Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Police: Cyber Attacks on Exams Advanced | Hackers Jammed Servers as State Rolled out Its New Standardized Tests

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Police: Cyber Attacks on Exams Advanced | Hackers Jammed Servers as State Rolled out Its New Standardized Tests

Article excerpt

TESTING

Officials with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have closed their investigation into the computer hacks that plagued the digital roll-out of Florida's new standardized tests because of "a lack of investigative leads and the inability to identify a suspect," according to a report.

But the inquiry revealed that there were more attacks than previously reported by the Florida Department of Education.

Investigators said the computer glitches in March, April and May were the result of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks, which send a flood of incoming messages and connections to a server and essentially block legitimate users from accessing the testing system. The scheme prevented thousands of students statewide from taking the test and led to the state's top education official to call off testing temporarily.

Pam Stewart, commissioner of the Florida Department of Education, said in a statement Wednesday that no test data was compromised because of the cyber-attacks.

"I want to reassure our state's students, parents and educators that, because of the nature of the cyber-attack, no student information was accessed and the content of the assessment was not compromised," Stewart said.

"I am pleased that the additional safeguards were effective, and we will continue working with AIR to ensure they have all of the necessary protections to provide for a smooth testing experience this year," she added, referring to American Institutes for Research, which created and administered the Florida Standards Assessment.

The attacks appear to have been sophisticated, with as many as 29,000 IP -- or individual computer -- addresses jamming testing servers with 500,000 bogus connections.

The hackers targeted testing systems that were contracted by AIR and those contracted by Pearson, which created and administered several End-of-Course assessments, officials reported.

While FDLE investigators found a letter sent to AIR that contained information about cyber-attacks and "incidents that happened in the past," investigators could not make a definitive connection between the letter and the attacks, and the letter did not mention the Department of Education by name. …

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