Was “Hacktivism” Behind the Denial of Service Attack on Florida’s Testing Contractor?

Last week’s denial of service hack on AIR, the contractor which administrates Florida’s new FSA tests took the state’s long and controversial testing saga to a place which no one really expected. With news that a similar attack took down Kansas’ online testing apparatus last year, it’s time to start wondering why. Consider this from British publication Computer Business Review:

“The primary purpose of a denial-of-service attack is to interfere with an organisation’s Internet activity,” says Chris Richter, SVP of managed security services at Level 3, a telecoms firm. “We see a lot of that happening with companies dependent on high speed transactions such as gaming or finance.”

According to Richter as much as three-quarters of these attacks fall into the realm of “hacktivism”, a form of political protest in which hackers disrupt a company or government’s operations to register their opposition to a given policy or practice – a common tactic among groups such as Anonymous.

More problematic are the “mixed” or “blended” attacks, which used DDoS as a distraction. Mike Langley, EMEA VP of Palo Alto Networks, a security vendor, says DDoS attacks can be just the start of a broader assault, which may leave firms open to devastating damage.

“DDoS attacks are how you cripple a company, then you utilise malware to break the perimeter and get where you want to go,” he says. “We’re certainly defending against DDoS attacks, but the reality of all these threats is it’s sophisticated malware and that’s getting past people’s perimeters.

The nation’s education policy powerbrokers have taken us into the world of what CBR refers to as “hactivism.”

While Florida’s accountability at all and any cost zealots probably never considered “hacktivism” as a potential problem, AIR should have. Especially after last year’s Kansas attack. Kansas still doesn’t know who hacked them, so the chances Florida finds out are slim. That doesn’t dismiss a larger point.

AIR’s selection by education commissioner Pam Stewart was a surprise as most observers felt that one of the big boys would win the contract after PARCC was bounced. They won the contract largely because of their low bid. Unless they are giving taxpayer dollars away to one of their charter school or education software cronies, Florida frequently tries to get by on the cheap when it comes to public schools. Its becoming tragically obvious that AIR wasn’t up to this and the losers are anyone that has anything to do with Florida public schools.


About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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