Student uncovers ‘severe data security issue’ within DeKalb County schools

CBS46 News at 9 p.m. (M-F PeachtreeTV) - VOD
Published: May. 19, 2022 at 6:59 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - First, it was students highlighting the physical infrastructure issues at schools in DeKalb County.

Now, one student has uncovered digital infrastructure failures.

According to a high school newspaper, the DeKalb County School District has not been adequately securing thousands of student files containing sensitive personal information.

Chamblee High School’s newspaper reported the files contained academic records, medical forms and course transcripts and they were accessible to anyone with an approved login to the DeKalb County School District System.

The files at risk contained information for about 93,000 students and 15,500 employees.

“I was like this is insane, this is a severe data security issue,” said Keegan Brooks, the high school reporter who broke the story.

Brooks, who highlighted the finding in a recent article in the school’s newspaper, said he first noticed the security issue in early March.

Brooks said he was able to access tens of thousands of files with private information of students and staff within the district.

He said that private information included social security numbers, along with medical, academic, and disciplinary records.

He alerted school officials in March.

A spokesperson for the district confirmed the issues and said they’re working with a third-party vendor to patch up the issue.

“An internal investigation determined that improper handling of files by employees caused these conditions,” said a spokesperson for the DeKalb County School District.

“DCSD promptly ordered an initial audit of the district’s infrastructure, and the conclusion was this incident was not caused by an external breach of information systems or databases.”

Brooks said while the district has fixed the majority of the issues, he is still able to access private information of many students and staff.

“As of this morning, I was still able to access student IEPs, individualized education program, in multiple schools, discipline records, medical information.”

A district spokesperson said they are currently evaluating the scope of the improper sharing of information.

“If it is determined that stakeholders had- or may have had- their information accessed by unauthorized individuals- DCSD will promptly notify those individuals as required by law,” said a district spokesperson.

CBS46 uncovered that, as of April 28, the district is currently looking to hire an Information and Network Security Director.

In the first line of essential functions, the posting says the candidate should “develop and execute an information security strategy and program that includes securing technology assets across the application, infrastructure, and data tiers.”

This data security issue comes as the state is increasing its oversight on the school district.

On Thursday, Meghan Frick, a spokesperson for the Department of Education said the state has hired an adviser, Dr. Tanzy Kilcrease, “to work on solving systemic operations issues throughout the district.”

Dr. Kilcrease will work with the DeKalb County school district to “execute a plan to fully address their urgent and critical facilities issues,” explained Frick.

Local politicians have questioned the latest actions of the DeKalb County Board of Education.

In late April, Governor Brian Kemp said:

I am highly concerned that these serious issues in DeKalb County could be a result of a school system choosing politics over students, families, and educators, and as Governor of the State of Georgia, I take very seriously my job to advocate for all Georgia citizens – especially our most valuable resource, our students. My office will remain in close communication with the Georgia Department of Education on these issues to determine what further action is needed.

In an interview with CBS46 News, Democratic Candidate for governor Stacey Abrams said,

“I think the school board is grappling how to rectify years of challenges. I believe that the investments that need to be made are under discussion,” Abrams said.