LAUSD Could Employ Student Hackers to Help Improve iPad Security

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is planning to engage student hackers to improve an iPad program gone wrong. A week after iPads were distributed to thousands of students in a pilot to test a district-wide plan, school officials were surprised to find that students broke security measures that were intended to block free internet browsing.

The iPads are part of the $1 billion project under which the nation’s second-largest school district plans to distribute iPads to its 640,000 students by late 2014. The hacking scandal led the LAUSD to halt the billion dollar project in early October, leading to questions about how the district should proceed.

There were about 340 students who were involved in hacking the security system to browse websites like Facebook and Twitter, LAUSD said. The district officials now want to tap the skills of students hackers to strengthen security on the devices, writes Alison DeNisco of District Administration.

“We want to really engage students in this program,” district spokesperson Shannon Haber said. “It’s an ongoing conversation, and we’re working to strengthen the security system.”

LAUSD decided to take back the iPads from students after the hacking scandal. District officials recovered devices from students at Westchester High School and Roosevelt High School, and LAUSD said that the iPads will be kept until the district strengthens security measures.

More districts are asking student hackers to help bolster cybersecurity, says Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). “Helping advise administrators on security breaches gives students responsibility. The best way to identify if your network is at risk is to see who can break into it.”

Students have an inherent interest in pushing the boundaries of the system, and this allows them to channel those skills into something productive for the school, Krueger says. Some schools have created committees of tech-savvy students who provide general tech support to other students and teachers.

LAUSD spokesperson Shannon Haber said that students from Theodore Roosevelt High School, Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnets, and the Fine Arts Academy at Dr. Maya Angelou Community High School uninstalled the mobile device management software that prevents them from freely browsing the web.

LAUSD is mulling different security measures to prevent students from using the Internet, playing games or using Facebook and Twitter. According to Haber, the tablets may be locked so only district-issued applications are accessible outside of school.

As districts move away from policies banning mobile phone and tablets in the classroom, administrators should focus on teaching students what is appropriate to access at school or at home, Krueger said. When students act as their own filter, there is less need for strong security measures that block internet access and, in turn, make the device less powerful for learning.

Krueger further said that students should be given an online ethics class and they should be educated if the technology is used inappropriately.

LAUSD is launching a cybersecurity awareness campaign to educate students, staff, and parents. The district will form student committees to promote online safety education and will require parents to sign a form acknowledging rules for tablet use before the devices can go home with students.