Lewis-Palmer School District tries to downplay vulnerability and chill a concerned parent’s speech

Back in May and then again in July, I noted several articles about Lewis-Palmer School District 38 in Colorado.

A parent had raised concerns about whether the Infinite Campus platform might have compromised more than 2,000 students’ personal and academic information. The parent also alleged that the district had known about the problem since September but had taken no action to address the security concerns.

Sherrie Peif of The Complete Colorado described it as a “probable” security breach and reported that after being walked through the process, they discovered that

anyone could easily access the personal information of any student in the district, including names, addresses, and phone numbers for students, parents, siblings, and emergency contacts; schedules; attendance records; grades; locker numbers and combinations; transportation details, including where and when bus pickups take place; and health records.

Rather than forthrightly acknowledge the problem and address it, the district had taken the position that maybe there was a vulnerability but that anyone who exploited it would be engaging in criminal conduct. On further investigation, and having discovered that some files were accessed, they shut down the student portal access and student accounts.

Bill Fitzgerald commented on the original post and then wrote his own article on the security concerns and the district’s response.

In July, the district reported that an independent investigation had concluded that no security breach or compromise of student information had occurred in May.

But now the district is trying to get criminal charges filed against the concerned parent who raised the issue and kept calling attention to it.

And that’s just plain wrong on so many levels.

The Complete Colorado, which has been doing an admirable job of local investigative reporting, revealed more about the vulnerability, and from their description, the parent was absolutely justified in sounding alarms and persisting in trying to get the inadequate security remedied:

The district uses Google Apps for Education (GAFE), a hosting solution by Google that incorporates Google mail, calendar, and chat services. Lewis-Palmer used it for student email accounts, which at that time consisted of the student’s district identification number. system [sic] used by the district allowed anyone with email address in the system to download a complete contact list of district students. The list identified students’ names and district email addresses. Because student email accounts were comprised of the student ID, anyone who gained access to this list only needed to know the students’ birthdays to access another program, Infinite Campus, which contains the personal data of possibly thousands of students.

Pfoff and others maintain there was additional knowledge needed to gain access or “advanced cracking skills,” but they have not addressed the fact that information was provided by the district on the home page of the Infinite Campus website for nearly three years. On Aug. 9, 2013 the district posted: “Due to a security enhancement within Infinite Campus, your network and IC passwords have been changed! You must now enter the prefix [email protected] before your regular birthday password (i.e. [email protected]).”

It is unknown how many contact lists were downloaded and shared over that time. But the district only contracted for the last year to be scrutinized.

Read more on The Complete Colorado, where they also provide a chronology of this case and information from a recorded conversation between a parent and school district personnel.

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