Reporter exploits weak Wi-Fi network; accesses student info

Friday, 27 June 2003, 12:31 PM EST

When the Palo Alto Unified School District decided to go high-tech and install wireless computer connections throughout it offices and on some campuses, it obviously hadn't gambled on security becoming an issue.

Armed merely with a laptop and a wireless connection card, a reporter for the Palo Alto Weekly succeeded last week in exploiting the school district's insecure network setup, obtaining some students' grades, home phone numbers, addresses, medical information, psychological evaluations and even full-color photos of the kids.

"I was sitting on the lawn, barefoot in front of the office," said Rachel Metz, the reporter who uncovered the system's weaknesses. "I was just looking to see what was going on, basically."

Metz, the weekly's education writer, discovered the vulnerabilities while researching an unrelated story at one of the district's middle school campuses. While taking some notes on her Apple iBook during an interview, a wireless connection popped up as active on her screen.

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