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Test Cyber Attack Shows Potential Security Dangers for All Online Tests

The world of education technology has also become a target for cyber attacks, which raises the question as to whether or not students are safe while completing tasks online.

“Students taking the state assessment test for science had to step away from their computers after a ‘distributed denial-of-service’ (DDoS) attack from a third-party caused servers to ground to a halt,” according to D. Frank Smith of EdTechMagazine.

The state assessment test was being conducted in Minnesota but exposed a security threat that could very well happen at any other educational institution. DDoS attacks are potentially dangerous to servers because if they are over-saturated, the servers may crash.

Ultimately in this case, the attack slowed down the processing speed and prevented users from accessing system resources according to the report by Smith.

“The tests were being administrated across the state by an online system from Pearson, a global education company,” according to the report.

“But on May 13, the Minnesota Department of Education suspended the comprehensive assessments due to system disruption ‘from an outside source,’ according to a press release from the department.”

The students in this case were robbed of taking a test that they had been spending much time prepping for. It was so unfair in fact, that State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius released a statement in defense of students and educators.

“It is simply unacceptable and unfair to subject students and teachers to this kind of uncertainty in a high-stakes testing environment," said Cassellius in her statement.

“Cyberattacks of this nature are, unfortunately, a reality of the world we live in. However, we expected the proper security measures to be in place to anticipate and deal with this reality. And they weren't.”

Cyber attacks such as this one can occur in any system that poses a security lapse of some sort. If the tests were administered the old fashioned way then the threat would be of no concern. However, in attempts to move forward in technology and the way students complete assessments, more schools nationwide have begun using online exams.

“It’s not the first time this year the system has sustained a DDoS attack. On April 21, the testing system was hit by a similar attack, but Pearson issued a letter to the department saying the company had taken precautions so an attack would not happen again,” according to Smith’s report.

“However, following the May 14 incident, Cassellius said Pearson had regarded the latest attack ‘larger and more sophisticated’ than the initial event.”

Companies like Pearson now have to return to the drawing board in order to prevent future attacks such as this one from happening. As security measures grow tighter hackers will still find ways around the blockades, it’s the responsible of the tech providers to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Read the full story and comment below.

Article by Navindra Persaud, Education World Contributor

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