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Two Updates on the School Laptop Spies

February 25, 2010

Here are two updates on the story of the Pennsylvania High School that admitted to remotely spying on their students and then said they weren’t :

1. Regarding the alleged “improper behavior” that set everything in motion – the kid was eating Mike and Ike’s candy and the vice principal thought he was taking pills.

2.  Stryde Hax did a little research and found that the school’s tech admin had spent quite a bit of time online talking of, um, alternative uses of the spyware on the laptops in question:

The primary piece of evidence, already being reported on by a Fox affiliate, is this amazing promotional webcast for a remote monitoring product named LANRev. In it, Mike Perbix identifies himself as a high school network tech, and then speaks at length about using the track-and-monitor features of LanRev to take surreptitious remote pictures through a high school laptop webcam. A note of particular pride is evident in his voice when he talks about finding a way outside of LANRev to enable “curtain mode”, a special remote administration mode that makes remote control of a laptop invisible to the victim. Listen at 35:47, when he says:
“you’re controlling someone’s machine, you don’t want them to know what you’re doing”
-Mike Perbix

It isn’t until 37 minutes into the video till Perbix begins talking about the Theft Tracking feature, which causes the laptop to go into a mode where it beacons its location and silent webcam screenshots out to an Internet server controlled by the school.

Along with that, he noted some of the things the other students at the high school were saying:

The truly amazing part of this story is what’s coming out from comments from the students themselves. Some of the interesting points:

  • Possession of a monitored Macbook was required for classes
  • Possession of an unmonitored personal computer was forbidden and would be confiscated
  • Disabling the camera was impossible
  • Jailbreaking a school laptop in order to secure it or monitor it against intrusion was an offense which merited expulsion

and more specifically quoting:

“My name is Manuel Tebas. I was a student at Harriton High School, in the graduating class of 2009. We were the first year on the one-to-one laptop initiative. […] I saw your post about removing webcam capability from the Macbook. It is possible – I did it last year. I will preface this by saying that when I did it, I was almost expelled, saved only by the fact that there was, at the time, no rule against doing so.”

“I remember that the laptop was a requirement in school for many classes. That may remain so.”

” had brought in my own personal computer to work on a project for school one day. I was doing a presentation involving programs not available on the regular computers, only in specific labs. I happened to have a copy of my own. My personal property was confiscated from me in a study hall when I was working on a school assignment because it was against the schools ‘code of conduct’.”

“Hi, I’m a 2009 Graduate of Harriton Highschool. […] I and a few of my fellow peers were suspicious of this sort of activity when we first received the laptops. The light next to the web cam would randomly come on, whether we were in class, in study hall or at home minding our own business. We reported it multiple times, each time getting the response: “It’s only a malfunction. if you’d like we’ll look into it and give you a loaner computer.”

“The webcam couldn’t be disabled due through tough tough security settings. Occasionally we would notice that the green light was on from time to time but we just figured that it was glitching out as some macbooks do sometimes. Some few covered it up with tape and post its because they thought the IT guys were watching them. I always thought they were crazy and that the district, one of the more respectable ones within the state, would never pull some shit like this. I guess I was wrong.”

“I am the father of a 17 y/o Harrington High student. She has had one of these laptops for 2 years. She has noticed the “green light” coming on but was not computer literate enough to know what initiated it”

(hat tip:Bruce Schneier)

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From → education, Liberty

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