AirDrop attack: A brand new wave of threats is now closing schools

'The amount of stress and frustration being felt in the community is at an extreme level,' superintendent says.

Here’s an example of the wrong type of K-12 innovation: Bad actors are now using the iPhone’s AirDrop file-sharing tool to threaten violence against schools.

What’s more troubling is that, since AirDrop users have to be relatively close to each other to share files, these threats—which have forced administrators to shut entire districts down—are likely coming from within schools. Compare that to the swatting hoaxes that have also bombarded schools this fall. Those false, phoned-in reports of active shooters, which are intended to close buildings and draw a heavy police response, are almost certainly coming from outside schools, perhaps even outside of the United States.

Atherton Community Schools in Michigan has been hit by repeated AirDrop threats, forcing administrators to close the district for several days at the end of October. On Oct. 25, after multiple students received violent threats on their phones via AirDrop, administrators sent students home early and closed schools for the rest of that week.

Users have to be within 30 to 40 feet of each other to share files or photos over AirDrop, Superintendent John Ploof explained in a message to the community. “These threats are coming from students within the building,” Ploof wrote. “This has resulted in some students’ phones being confiscated by the police in their investigation.”

The district reopened on Monday with armed security guards and metal detectors, requiring all students to submit to screening upon entering the junior/senior high school. Administrators also restricted the use of regular backpacks and ordered clear backpacks for each student. Ploof offered a $500 reward for information and noted that anyone found guilty of sending the threats could face up to 20 years in prison.

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The district was again hit by a violent AirDrop message on Thursday, which led to a lockdown at the high school. The message—which appeared while police were on campus investigating the previous incident—threatened multiple students and teachers by name, Ploof said. “The amount of stress and frustration being felt in the community is at an extreme level,” he noted.

In late October, a 14-year-old student at Columbia Middle School in Southern California’s High Desert was arrested for allegedly AirDropping messages warning that a shooting would occur at the school, according to the Daily Press. Also last month, a 14-year-old student at Fayetteville High School in Georgia who was arrested on suspicion of sending a threatening AirDrop message was charged with making terroristic threats, The Citizen reported.

In New Mexico, administrators at Los Alamos High School quickly identified the source when inappropriate messages were AirDropped onto students’ iPhones late last month, the Los Alamos Daily Post reported. Administrators reminded parents that AirDropping is prohibited on school grounds and that the function should be disabled on their students’ iPhones.

Here are just a few more headlines about AirDrop threats and disruptions around the country:

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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