DIXON – Jacob Lemmert needed less than 2 minutes to find email log-in and password information for the president, vice president and other officials at a university in India.
All it took was a Google search and three clicks for Hannah Borgman to find her way to the private studio webcam for a Georgia radio station.
It wouldn’t take much more for Lemmert or Borgman to take the information or access they now had and do something malicious. But they didn’t. That wasn’t their intention.
They were sitting in the back of a classroom at the Whiteside Area Career Center in Sterling. They, along with about a dozen other students in Dana Fellows’ Computer Technology I and II classes, sat in front of dual monitors and showed how easy it was to find unsecured networks and information.
Lemmert is a senior at Dixon High School, and Borgman is a senior at Fulton High School.
They weren’t using a secret search engine or finding links to vulnerable websites on some hacker message board. They were using the same Google most people use every day. They just knew what to search for.
On Sunday, March 2, the Dixon Public Schools website was redirected. The website, along with the district’s email accounts and Twitter account, had been compromised. The district’s technology department has been working for the past 2 weeks to regain access to all of its accounts and fully restore its website.
Lemmert had an idea of what the hacker might have done to gain access, but said it could have happened by any number of means.
Good Internet citizens
Fellows teaches his students the same skills they would need to hack into a website or server, he said, because then they will be equipped with the skills they need to prevent a hack.
“If I try to block everything and keep these guys from doing stuff, they’re going to find a way to do it anyhow,” Fellows said. “So the best thing to do is to try to teach them to have high moral values and ethics.”
When Borgman found the webcam, which isn’t available through the station’s website, she called the radio station to report it was unsecured.
The woman she spoke with, Borgman said, didn’t seem to know anything about the webcam, even though Borgman was able to tell her exactly what the person in the studio was wearing.
“The people [at the station], they either know it’s unsecured ... and they have it for their users to actually watch them,” Borgman said, “or they’re using it for security and they don’t know that they don’t have it password protected.”
Borgman isn’t sure she wants to use the skills she’s learning in the class for a future career, but said they’re important skills to have given the way technology is growing.
“I knew that I was a little bit savvy with computers before [the class],” she said. “So I just wanted to dabble. And I’m glad I did it because it’s a really good program. It teaches you a lot, and you can earn college credit, too. So it was a really good idea.”
Whiteside Area Career Center has 646 students enrolled this year, but the enrollment is expected to drop 20 percent – to 515 – because Dixon and Rock Falls high schools will send fewer students, the result of tighter budgets.
Fellows wants to have more of his students work with the technology departments at area schools.
“They’re the ones that probably hear about holes in the system and how people might be hacking them,” he said, adding some schools have embraced that idea and others have wanted to keep the students away from the servers.
8,700 miles at the click of a mouse
Using Google searches for keywords, Internet Protocol, or IP, address or documents file extensions – like .xls – Fellows’s students have been able to find unsecured printers on a college campus in Tennessee and an online company’s customer information.
And even when some servers are password protected, the default username is often “admin” and password is often “password,” Fellows said.
If documents are saved to a website server, there’s a chance Google will index it like it would any other site.
And that’s just how Lemmert found his way to a spreadsheet with log-in information for a college about 8,700 miles away.
“It’s really hard to protect yourself on the Internet,” he said. “It’s so open.”