Revenge of the Students: Cyber-Attacks Target Schools

May 18, 2016 03:00 PM

The cyber-attack in Japan last week that took down 444 school networks simultaneously is the latest example of a worldwide trend: student-launched cyber assaults targeting educational institutions via online hacking services and tools.

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The cyber-attack in Japan last week that took down 444 school networks simultaneously is the latest example of a worldwide trend: student-launched cyber assaults targeting educational institutions via online hacking services and tools.

Radware’s 2015-2016 Global Application & Network Security Report predicted an increase in cyberattacks against educational institutes. This corresponds to the growing variety of powerful attack tools available to novice attackers via the Darknet.


In most cases, it’s either a student looking to delay a test, manipulate the registration process or a personal attack by a student or staff member in aggression towards the school.

Common Attack Methods

  • SQL injections
  • UDP reflective attacks such as:
    • DNS flood
    • NTP flood
    • SNMP flood

Reasons for Concern

One reason for concern is the growth of school hacking services found on the Darknet. Vendors will offer services such as grade changes and denial of service attacks for hire. This makes it increasingly easy for non-hackers to carry out an attack or cause damage to a school’s resources. In addition to these services, a potential attacker can rent botnets or stresser services for Bitcoin (see Figure 1 below).

Attack Vectors

  1. UDP Flood - A UDP flood is a network flood and still one of the most common floods today. The attacker sends UDP packets, typically large ones, to a single destination or to random ports. In most cases the attackers spoof the SRC IP which is easy to do since the UDP protocol is “connectionless” and does not have any type of handshake mechanism or session. The main intention of a UDP flood is to saturate the Internet pipe. Another impact of this attack is on the network and security elements on the way to the target server, and most typically the firewalls. Firewalls open a state for each UDP packet and will be quickly overwhelmed by the UDP flood.
  2. Reflection Attacks – Reflective denial-of-service attacks makes use of a potentially legitimate third-party component to send the attack traffic to a victim, ultimately hiding the attackers’ own identity. The attackers send UDP packets to the reflector servers with a source IP address set to their victim’s IP, therefore indirectly overwhelming the victim with the response packets. The reflector servers used for this purpose could be ordinary servers with no indication/trace that they have been compromised, which makes this kind of attack particularly difficult to mitigate. A common example for this type of attack is DNS, NTP, and SNMP reflection.
  3. SQL Injection - Exploiting poor coding of web application where the inputs are not sanitized therefore exposing application vulnerabilities. SQL injection is the most common type of injection attack which also count LDAP or XML injections. It is by far the number one vulnerability listed in OWASP Top 10. The idea behind a SQL injection is to modify an application SQL (database language) query in order to access or modify unauthorized data or to run malicious programs. Most web applications rely on databases where the application data is stored and being accessed by SQL queries and modifications of these queries could mean taking control of the application.

Recently Targeted Schools

  • Japani – A 16-year-old student in Japan downloaded an attack tool to his desktop and carried out an attack on the Osaka Board of Education server, resulting in 444 elementary, junior highs, and high school websites being knocked offline. He was monitoring the attack from his cellphone and expressed that he wanted to join Anonymous, the worldwide hacktivist group. This student ultimately launched this attack due to his frustration with his school teachers.
  • Australiaii – A 15-year-old in Australia is facing 10 years in jail for launching one of the largest DDoS attacks in the country’s history. The attack was so large that around 10,000 customers for the local ISP NuSkope were also affected. This attack was directed at a number of targets including Reynella East College. The attacker said that he launched the assault as a test.
  • Indiaiii – A college in India was hacked and defaced by a group named Pak Cyber Attacker. The attack was launched against both the official website of Utkal University and the e-admissions page. At the time of this report, the e-admissions page was not accessible.
  • Canadaiv – A Vancouver high school suffered network service degradation following a student successfully compromising his/her teacher’s email account and began spamming out emails in bulks to a list of over 50,000 email addresses. This action of spamming slowed down the school’s network operation. The student was expelled.
  • England – Janetv, a research and educational network in England, has been the victim of several denial-of-service attacks over the last year. Janet connects the networks of 19 different regional universities. The sophisticated attacked rippled through these networks, resulting in degradation to network services and performance.
  • United States – RutgersviArizona State Universityvii and University of Georgiaviii have all experienced denial-of-service attacks over the last year. These attacks have caused a number of issues resulting in delays during registration and final exams. Often times these attacks are so large that they completely saturate the network, preventing students from being able to connect to the network.

Organizations Under Threat Should Consider

Protection from UDP Floods, reflection attacks and other DDoS techniques:

  • A hybrid solution combining on-premise detection and mitigation with cloud-based protection for volumetric attacks. It facilitates quick detection, immediate mitigation and internet pipe saturation.
  • Solution must distinguish between legitimate and attack traffic, blocking it while protecting the SLA.
  • An integrated, synchronized solution that can protect from multi-vector attacks combining DDoS with web-based exploits such as website scraping, Brute Force and HTTP floods.
  • A cyber-security emergency response plan that includes a dedicated emergency team of experts.

Protection from SQL injections and web application vulnerabilities:

  • IP-agnostic device fingerprinting – the ability to detect attacks beyond source-IP by developing a device fingerprint that enables precise activity tracking over time.
  • Automatic and real time generation of policies to protect from zero-day, unknown attacks.
  • Shortest time from deployment to a full coverage of OWASP Top-10.
  • Radware's hybrid attack mitigation solution provides a set of patented and integrated technologies designed to detect, mitigate and report the most advanced threats. Dedicated hardware and cloud solutions protect against attacks in real time and help ensure service availability.

Under Attack and in Need of Expert Emergency Assistance?

Radware offers a full range of solutions to help networks properly mitigate attacks similar to these. Our attack mitigation solutions provide a set of patented and integrated technologies designed to detect, mitigate and report todays most advanced DDoS attacks and cyber threats. With dedicated hardware, fully managed services and cloud solutions that protect against attacks, Radware can help ensure service availability. To understand how Radware's attack mitigation solutions can better protect your network contact us today.

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