study at home

Facing Coronavirus Growing Pains, California School Districts Confront Cybersecurity Breaches

In Berkeley, administrators are addressing an explicit “Zoombombing” incident as Oakland acknowledges a public leak of Google Classroom sites and Zoom meeting passwords.

School districts in Oakland and Berkeley have struggled with cybersecurity incidents in the past month, demonstrating the massive learning curve that administrators have been on to meet demands for remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With schools closed due to coronavirus concerns, many classes have been meeting via teleconference software like Zoom or sharing class materials through platforms like Google Classroom.

Oakland schools discovered a student privacy breach after administrators accidentally made hundreds of access codes and passwords used by teachers for online classroom meetings and video conferences public, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. With online trolls using social media and messaging tools to coordinate harassment campaigns in virtual classrooms, the breach could lead to disruption of classes with obscene language and images.

The Chronicle informed the district that their documents, featuring Google Classroom sites set up by teachers across the districts and access information to Zoom meeting rooms for teachers and students, were easily available online. The codes allowed anyone with a Gmail account to join the Google Classroom site and see students’ full names and comments posted on the site, according to the Chronicle.

Read More: New York City Bans Schools From Using Zoom Following Harassment Campaigns Targeting Classrooms

Oakland administrators removed the documents on April 8 and worked to lock down the classroom sites to not be available to users who are not students or staff. District spokesman John Sasaki said that the district was not aware of any breaches in its online platforms as a result of the information leaking online.

“This is all part of this new reality that we’re all experiencing now,” Sasaki said, according to EdSource. “We’ve made it very clear that anything that faces the public should have just the bare minimum of information. When it comes to codes and passwords, those should be sent via email, text message, or in a Google doc shared just with the class.”

A Berkeley high school class was victim to “Zoombombing,” the practice of internet trolls gaining access to classrooms or meetings and disrupting them with obscene images or language.

In the case of the Berkeley teacher, a man gained access to a Zoom meeting with students despite the teacher following proper security measures, such as setting a password and not sharing the link publicly. But the disruptor still managed to get in, exposing himself and shouting obscenities before the teacher was able to kick him out of the virtual classroom, the Chronicle reported.

Berkeley Superintendent Brent Stephens said it is likely that a student cut and pasted the access information to the meeting online, allowing a would-be predator to find it. The intruder also used a pseudonym that matched a student’s first name, reflecting the sophistication of predators coordinating virtual attacks on classrooms.

“We’re all kind of learning about the world that we’re in,” Stephens said, adding: “We’re being asked to sustain student learning while they’re at home and using technology to do it and just stumbling through these issues.”

Police are investigating the incident, which was disclosed to parents last Wednesday. The district has suspended holding virtual classrooms until it can figure out a solution with Zoom, which has vowed to take more action to protect users from intruders. Stephens hopes to restore teleconferencing this week with additional security practices, he told the Chronicle.

“It’s just heartbreaking hearing stories from parents that their kids aren’t getting out of bed until 11 in the morning and are displaying symptoms of depression,” Stephens said. “And [Zoom] was alleviating some of that.”

About the Author

Haley Samsel is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.


  • Making Safety and Security Intrinsic to School Design

    Public anxieties about school safety are escalating across the country. According to a 2023 Gallup report, 44% of parents fear for their child’s physical safety at school, a 10 percentage-point increase since 2019. Unfortunately, these fears are likely to increase if the incidence of school tragedies continues to mount. As a result, school leaders are now charged with two non-negotiable responsibilities. The first, as always, is to ensure kids have what they need to learn, grow, and thrive. Sadly, their second responsibility is to keep the children in their care safe from threats and physical danger. Read Now

  • Unlocking Peace of Mind

    In a perfect world, every school would have an unlimited budget to help secure their schools. In reality, schools must prioritize what budget they have while navigating the complexities surrounding school security and lockdown Read Now

  • Emerging Campus Access Control Solutions

    Emerging solutions in campus access control can mean different things. Usually, we expect the topic to focus on the very latest in door security products and solutions that have just been recently released or are about to be launched. After all, staying up on improvements to keep campuses safer is critical. Plus, it’s always interesting and exciting to learn what’s new and how innovations are going to better protect lives and assets and help the industry be even more successful. Read Now

  • Here’s How Instructional Audio Can Play a Key Role in School Safety

    Ensuring the safety of students and employees is critical in today’s educational environment. While the threat of a school shooting is in the back of everyone’s mind, the truth is there are many possible scenarios that could crop up at any time in classrooms, hallways, and other school spaces—from fights or altercations to a sick child or staff member who requires emergency attention. Read Now