The email system for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools was used to send a prank email to all Chapel Hill-Carrboro students and staff members on Wednesday.
The school confirmed the attack in an email Wednesday evening.
“Someone hacked our district email account and sent a phony message to all staff and students,” the unsigned message confirmed. “We have secured the account and sent a note to all staff and students asking them to ignore that message. We are working with law enforcement to track the origin, and with State agencies to ensure this does not happen again.”
The prank email appeared to try to mimic a legitimate message from the district. It came from an account named CHCCS Admin and had the subject line, “Important Update Chapel Hill Carrboro Schools.”
Like all other schools in the state, Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools have been closed and students participating in distance learning since March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The message from the hackers claimed that the district planned to keep students at home for the 2020-21 school year.
“With the exceptional team we have in curriculum and technology, we are confident that we will be able to deliver a fantastic and SECURE virtual at home learning program,” the message read.
The email had a link that appeared to be a file on the district’s Google Drive. “Please enjoy the accompanying video highlighting the work to come and our promise to you,” the message said.
The link instead sent readers to a video of 1980s British pop singer Rick Astley’s video for the 1987 song “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
Using disguised links to send people to that Rick Astley video was a popular Internet prank in 2007 and 2008, known as “Rick-rolling.”
By Wednesday evening, the video at the link would no longer play. Instead, users were greeted with an error message saying, “The number of allowed playbacks has been exceeded.”
The message also poked fun at school administration, saying, “It has been an honor working with you in what can only be described as a surreal roller coaster over the years. We have had victories despite our obvious lapses in leadership and professional judgement.” The writers also concluded the message with “I ask that you keep faith in our team and school board leadership. We can only go up from here.”
No one has taken responsibility for the attack on the district’s email system.