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April Fools’ texting prank claimed Australian high school burned down

Apr 01, 20144 mins
CybercrimeData and Information SecurityMicrosoft

For April Fools Day in Australia, 'Anonymous' sent out an emergency text message in the middle of the night claiming Castle High School had burned down.

If someone sends you a text message and awakens you at 2:30 a.m., then it had better be an emergency. But do you think well enough immediately upon waking to realize what the date is and to recognize an April Fools’ prank when you are staring at an emergency text message on your phone?

More than 1,100 parents received a text message saying Castle High School in Sydney, Australia, burned down. That text message arrived about 2:30 a.m., but by 2:45 a.m. another text arrived claiming the school was “unburnt,” open, and attendance for exams was still required. The second message was “real” and from the school. The April Fools’ prank, and retraction, went out to any parent who gave the school their mobile phone number or an email address.

The prankster tried to send another text at 3.07 a.m., saying the first was an April Fools’ prank, but the message was “not authorized” to send.

The Department of Education was not amused and called the police to investigate the breach into the school’s IT system. “The school, along with the department, will be investigating how this occurred,” stated a NSW Department of Education and Communities spokesman. “It will be reported to the police because there is a question of data security there. It may have only been an April Fools’ Day prank, but we want to make sure that data is secure, that no other data has been accessed and obviously work to strengthen the system so it doesn’t occur again.”

However, that is apparently not the end of the story, as the Sydney Morning Herald reported, “An April Fools’ Day prankster who duped parents into believing Castle Hill High School had burnt down claims he or she should be given credit for ‘pulling off something this huge’.”

At 11:30 a.m., the anonymous prankster “sent two more messages to families who had provided their contact details to the school so they could receive emergency alerts.” They stated:  

You really should have looked at your calendar before believing … give me credit, it’s not easy pulling off something this huge.

The messages were signed by “Anonymous.”

Castle High School then completely “cut off its text messaging system until further notice.” A spokesperson issued this statement:

In regards to future methods of communication with parents we will now use email and the Castle Hill High School website as the only electronic forms of communication. We are very conscious of trying to maintain the privacy of personal details and as we move forward with the investigation we will provide you with further information as it comes to hand.

Although the school cites data security concerns as well as unnecessary anxiety the messages gave parents and students who were set to take exams, some people are amused. A quick search on Twitter shows comments calling this April Fools’ Day texting prank a “legend,” a “classic” and a “tad extreme.” Awakendragon tweeted, “LMAO @ the Castle Hill High School prank. I don’t care if they broke the law, just proves their system has security flaws.”

That it did, break the law and show security weaknesses; in this case however, what was a prank on April Fools’ Day will be a hack if this case ever sees the light of a courtroom.

Happy April Fools’ Day…be wary of all things today.

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.