It's now been determined that a cyber-attack took down a province-wide literacy test in Ontario last Thursday. The Education Quality and Accountability Office, commonly referred to as the EQAO, says it was a deliberate and malicious attack.  They have brought in an independent forensic firm to conduct an investigation.

The EQAO knows that no data was taken in the cyberattack and they believe it was not the work of students. What they do not know is why anyone would hack a literacy test.

Just as tens of thousands of Grade 10 students were about to write the first on-line version of the province-wide literacy test last Friday, it was cancelled.   This was a trial run and organizers thought perhaps it was a computer glitch.

Max Wong was among those Grade 10 students who were left wondering what had happened.

“I thought someone hacked it because it's on-line, a troll or something,” says Wong.

This morning, the EQAO office confirmed this was no glitch but rather “…an intentional, malicious and sustained Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack…initiated by an unknown entity or entities,” it said in a statement on-line.

“That's really scary,” says Grade 11 student Manaal Chasso, “this is the first time I'm hearing about the cyber-attack.”

The EQAO says no data was compromised and that it was not linked to a massive global denial of service attack the following day. 

“We had no idea this sort of thing could happen to us,” says Richard Jones with the Education Quality and Accountability Office, “Who would want to block students wanting to do their assessments?”

There are theories among some of the students.

“I think it's maybe someone who didn't want the literacy test to happen, like a grade 10 student,” says Grade 10 student Mohammed Jemal.

But Mark Nunnikhoven, an IT security expert with Trend Micro says it is highly unlikely students did it; more likely cyber criminals trying to highlight what they're capable of.

“It's really good proof for a cyber criminal to say “you can rent from me, I ironically am trusted because my stuff works, look at media reports, I took down an entire testing infrastructure that was meant to support tens of thousands of people,” says Nunnikhoven.

The literacy test will go ahead; Mohammed Jemal has an idea as to how it should proceed.

“Honestly, I think it would be better if we just write it in pen or pencil,” he says.

The EQAO will work to figure out how to strengthen its system.  The plan is to proceed with the next on-line test in March.