author photo
By Clare O’Gara
Tue | May 26, 2020 | 10:59 AM PDT

We hate to admit it, but sometimes hackers can be pretty good pranksters.

Especially the one that launched a recent attack on North Carolina's Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

Hacker sends fake email to parents and staff

Picture this: you're a student or staff member for a local school in your district.

In the wake of COVID-19, your entire educational system rapidly transitioned online. It was a challenge, and far from ideal, but you've finally finished the academic year. Now, all you have to do is wait for in-person courses to hopefully restart in the fall.

Then you get an email titled "Important Update Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools."

The contents? The announcement that most parents don't want to hear: the school district is planning for an online 2020-2021 school year and school buildings will remain closed this fall. 

But something was off about the email message Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools students and staff received.

"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 hackers seemed to understand the irony behind capitalizing the word "SECURE" in the email. That was the first thing that appeared off.

Hacker 'Rickrolls' school district

The hacker's email had a link that appeared to be a file on the school district's Google Drive.

"Please enjoy the accompanying video highlighting the work to come and our promise to you," the message said.

When parents clicked the link, it played Rick Astley's 1987 hit, "Never Gonna Give You Up." This is a well-known online prank known as "Rick-rolling."

Was the school district hacker a student?

Could this have been some sort of senior prank? You have to wonder because of what the hacker wrote in the email to parents and staff:

"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."

The administration was not laughing and was quick to shut the attack down, responding the same night, according to North State Journal:

"Someone hacked our district email account and sent a phony message to all staff and students," the district 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."

Related podcast: Tracking COVID-19 cyberattacks