Students looking for an easy way out for failing to study for a chemistry test or skipping too many classes are turning to the obscure and secretive Darknet to alter their grades.
Armed with only one Bitcoin, which is worth an estimated $571, even a middle school student can change his grade, manipulate his absentee record and seek a Denial of Service (DoS) that interrupts access to their school's network, said Chris Roberts, chief security architect at Acalvio, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based provider of advanced threat detection and defense solutions.
"It's amazing what you can get for one Bitcoin these days," he said. "[Of course], I'm not sure how many kids can readily get their hands on $500 to $1,000."
How the Darknet Operates
The Darknet is seeping into the mainstream, as it has transformed into a marketplace for students wanting to buy drugs or employing hackers for a few hundred dollars to change their grade.
The money being allocated for these nefarious purchases can wind up funding criminal syndicates, said Carl Herberger, vice president of security solutions at Radware, a Tel Aviv, Israel-based cybersecurity company.
"This can have big financial implications for schools targeted by student purchased cyber attacks," he said. "This is happening at every level of education from elementary school to college."
It's not uncommon even to find disgruntled parents asking hackers on Twitter to create a DoS to stop the network of their child's school, Herberger said.
The Darknet is available to people who have gained the knowledge of how to use it and are aware of the secret handshakes required to gain access, he said.
"It's a software defined network running on top of your current network," Herberger said. "The concept of a 'hidden' Internet existing as a sort of parasite to the public Internet is bizarre to most people."
Access to the Darknet is simple, and other services that can be found on Google teach students or their parents how to purchase a Bitcoin and then how to contact the hacker, said Roberts.
"When I was younger, I would have had to theoretically break into the office physically to do this," he said. "These days, the records are accessible online. The target is the same; however, the method has changed. In my days, it was two to three of us who had the knowledge of how to change things and where."
The attacks occur most frequently during the beginning of the school year and towards the end during final exams, Herberger said. Students turn to the Darknet to purchase attacks to improve their grades and not avoid "facing the wrath of their parents," he said.
Online Harassment of Personal Information
Students now are not satisfied with simply changing their grades; they also are also concerned about doxing, the practice of researching and broadcasting private or personal identifiable information about an individual. They can be doxing their enemies at school such as their teachers.
"Let's face it, when the teacher gives you an 'F,' the last thing you want to do is admit that you deserved it," Roberts said. "It's much easier to blame someone else. Dox the teacher as revenge. It's free or will only cost you 0.25 Bitcoin."
How Schools Can Prevent Attacks
Schools must safeguard themselves against these attacks and make it a priority, because these cyber attacks and hacks can cause them to lose funding, force them to make expensive investments in security or face being sued by students such as when Rutgers University received their famed outages, said Herberger.
Protecting their network from the Darknet is "nearly impossible" because the behavior of most users leveraging the Darknet is "almost indistinguishable from legitimate users once the software is downloaded," he said.
"In the end, the Darknet is inevitable and already exist in most corporate networks," Herberger said. "The question becomes understanding that they are there and ferreting them out."