A teenage boy from Florida is facing felony charges after carrying out a cyber-attack that knocked 145 schools offline last spring.
The unnamed 17-year-old junior at St. Petersburg High School crashed the entire computer network of the Pinellas County School District in Florida by deploying a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. His actions caused all the schools in the district to lose internet access on March 22 and 23.
According to a search warrant from the St. Petersburg Police Department, the youth said he had become “fixated” on the idea of disrupting the district’s digital peace after watching a video online that highlighted the vulnerability of school networks.
CI Security founder Michael Hamilton said: “What the student did was he brought down a distributed denial-of-service attack, which is not the same as breaking in and stealing things and changing grades. What it does, is it makes the whole network unavailable.”
The teen, who has since been expelled from school, said that he immediately regretted his actions.
“By the time it was done, there was no way to undo it,” he said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.
“If I could go back, I wouldn’t do it again.”
The teen said he hopes to get his GED and have a career in cybersecurity. His mother said her son “was just pushing it to see how smart he could go with it.”
“It wasn’t something that was malicious,” she said, “it was just something like a video game to him in his head.”
According to documents filed by the St. Petersburg police to get a search warrant for the teen’s phone, the school district’s director of network and telecommunications, Brian Doughty, told investigators that the attack was considered “critical” because it coincided with statewide testing.
Charter-Spectrum had provided the Pinellas County School District with distributed denial-of-services protection for years, said district spokesperson Isabel Mascareñas. However, the protection was not maintained when the district migrated to a new system in late 2020.
Mascareñas said that, following the attack, Charter-Spectrum has reactivated the protection and given Pinellas County School District a $23,000 credit.