China’s online learning classes reportedly hacked; teaching material replaced with vulgar content

Amrutha PagadSeptember 7, 2022 | 09:43 IST

Several schools in China, conducting online classes over Tencent meetings, were targets of a ransomware attack, a China observer revealed on Tuesday, September 6. Reportedly, the hackers hijacked online classes and replaced teaching material with vulgar content. 

The incident was reported by Matthew Stinson, who writes for Forbes and is described as an educator, photographer, designer and blogger based in Tianjin, China, on his Twitter profile.

However, there is very little known about the hacking incident and there is no mention of it other than by Stinson on his Twitter account. 

What happened? According to Matthew Stinson, hackers targetted not one but multiple schools in China, that were conducting their classes online via Tencent meeting in view of the Covid-19 lockdown in several places. That's when the hackers launched attacks nationally and replaced the teaching content with vulgar material. 

The teachers were then "advised to change and protect their passwords". Tencent, the company on whose platform the classes were hosted, issued a security guide on WeChat to help teachers. 

How did it happen? While it is unknown who was behind the hacking and how it took place on a national level, Stinson claims that it couldn't have been a simple leak of the teacher or school's passwords. He said it signals a bigger problem of a massive data leak in China. 

The biggest question that's unanswered is - 

How did hackers launch this attack nationally?
- Matthew Stinson

The news also comes at a time when the US and China are busy pointing fingers at each other over cyber spying. China has claimed that the US NSA snooped into its Northwestern Polytechnical University, a military university, in June 2022. The US has denied the accusation. 

Answering some questions: 

China data leak: The massive data leak that Matthew Stinson is hinting at is nothing new or surprising. Several reports earlier this year revealed that data of China's 1 billion citizens were leaked online, earning the tag of being the biggest personal data leak in the country's history. The hackers also tried to sell the data. The data was stolen from the Shanghai police database. 

The leak exposed two faults in China's cybersecurity:

  • Poor data protection measures adopted by the government 
  • Massive data collection by the Chinese government for surveillance purposes

It isn't the only big data leak in China. On September 1, 2022, reports revealed that there was another personal data leak of some 800 million Chinese citizens. 

The personal data leak included everything from people's names, ages, birthdates, faces and even their car number plates. 

Cyber attacks on online classes and education sector: Covid-19 moved education online across the world. While things are getting back to normal, some classes are still held online. This has led to online classes becoming targets for hackers. And it isn't limited to China. 

In March 2020, a professor from Arizona State University in the US was holding online classes on Zoom, when the meeting was hit by what was called 'Zoombombing'. The screens of several attendees in the meeting were replaced by vulgar, pornographic content and the chat also turned vile, forcing the professor to cut short the class. 

It wasn't known whether the intrusion was by the students or hackers. 

The education sector's IT systems have also come under attack several times. Just over the last weekend, the Los Angeles Unified School District's IT systems came under attack of ransomware. 

There is no doubt that in the increasingly digitised society, we aren't moving as swiftly enough to protect our digital selves and data.

Last updated: September 07, 2022 | 09:43
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