Thank You Mr. Hacker For This Teachable Moment

Last week my email account was hacked. You know the message (or you might have even gotten the message from me!):

“Subject: Important Message

Please view the document i uploaded for you using Google docs. CLICK HERE just sign in with your email to view the document its very important.

Thank you”

Which would then lead anyone who did “Click” to a non-existent document.

Yes. It was a pain. Within 24 hours I had 50 emails from people asking me if I sent them this weird message. That, of course, meant I had to respond to all those people telling them no, unfortunately/fortunately it wasn’t me, but it was SPAM and maybe they should consider changing their own email passwords.

Most people were understanding, and had either experienced something similar or knew someone who did. Many had seen this message with another fake document “attached” before. No one was angry or upset. It is very much part of our digital lives- to be hacked.

What I wasn’t ready for though, was explaining what happened, what it meant and how to handle it to students in my elementary school who were sent the message- and of course opened it! (An “Important Message” from the Assistant Principal- what 8-10 year old wouldn’t open it?)

I was surprised then when a 4th grade girl sent me a series of emails about the hacking episode.  She took the situation, worked through it and then learned from it all. Here is how our correspondence went:

Student: Ms.Munnerlyn I am wondering what is this, because when I clicked on it, it said it was suspicious and when I click on it nothing comes up.
Me: Please don’t open. My email was hacked, and it was sent out. Thanks for letting me know. Please tell others. Mrs. M
 A few minutes later…
Student: OK, my mom thinks it’s a virus and it happened to one other friend.
A few minutes later…
Student: I just looked at it in Google and it is a scam, what it said is that scammers will see my password (had to log in) and start sending e-mails that scam other people. That website said to change password immediately, what do I do???
Me: To be safe, it might be good to change your password. Today at school I learned of 3 parents who had the same situation happen to them. Do you know how to change your password? If not, I will be happy to help you with that tomorrow. Tell your teacher you need to come to me with your computer ok?
Don’t worry- our tech director has told me this isn’t dangerous or anything. They are trying to get people to send them money. However- you and I are too smart for that. The problem for us is that this is an inconvenience only.
Thanks for checking with me. Your friend, Mrs. Munnerlyn


Not the conversation I would expect to have with a 10-year-old, but one which I’ve been thinking a lot about lately as it is the exact conversation I should be having with her- and others like her at our school.

You see, we offer digital citizenship weeks, and days and courses, and tell kids to be careful, cautious and aware online. We have given them examples and talked to them about reasons. Our students, for the most part, are good online. If anything it is a back and forth email spat which gets out of control. However, this is the first time I have had a real example like this: a scenario from the real, big, unpredictable world out there.

So who got schooled through Mr. Hacker’s teachable moment?

I did, of course. My student taught me that she is not only internalizing what we’ve been teaching, but maybe more importantly, she is showing signs of being a truly independent, savvy, and resourceful technology user.

It isn’t getting hacked that counts; it’s how you handle it. 

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