August 8, 2022

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A Cyberattack Illuminates the Shaky State of Student Privacy

2 min read

The software that many school districts use to track students’ progress can record extremely confidential information on children: “Intellectual disability.” “Emotional Disturbance.” “Homeless.” “Disruptive.” “Defiance.” “Perpetrator.” “Excessive Talking.” “Should attend tutoring.”

Now these systems are coming under heightened scrutiny after a recent cyberattack on Illuminate Education, a leading provider of student-tracking software, which affected the personal information of more than a million current and former students across dozens of districts — including in New York City and Los Angeles, the nation’s largest public school systems.

Officials said in some districts the data included the names, dates of birth, races or ethnicities and test scores of students. At least one district said the data included more intimate information like student tardiness rates, migrant status, behavior incidents and descriptions of disabilities.

The exposure of such private information could have long-term consequences.

“If you’re a bad student and had disciplinary problems and that information is now out there, how do you recover from that?” said Joe Green, a cybersecurity professional and parent of a high school student in Erie, Colo., whose son’s high school was affected by the hack. “It’s your future. It’s getting into college, getting a job. It’s everything.”

Over the last decade, tech companies and education reformers have pushed schools to adopt software systems that can catalog and categorize students’ classroom outbursts, absenteeism and learning challenges. The intent of such tools is well meaning: to help educators identify and intervene with at-risk students. As these student-tracking systems have spread, however, so have cyberattacks on school software vendors — including a recent hack that affected Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest district.

Now some cybersecurity and privacy experts say…

Natasha Singer

2022-07-31 05:00:13

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