Local media got snowed last night by an e-mail saying that Portland Public Schools would be delayed two hours for snow that had yet to materialize.
KGW and KATU sent out tweets with the news. The Portland Police Bureau did likewise.
Fifteen-year-olds across the city, we presume, cracked their energy drinks and sparkling apple ciders.
But alas! It was not to be. Within about fifteen minutes, the error was discovered and reported:
But as it turns out, the system wasn't hacked.
PPS uses FlashAlert
, a service that provides emergency messages for public schools and universities, as well as the Oregon Department of Transportation
and other agencies. And some enterprising somebody had set up a FlashAlert account called "PPS Alerts," and made a page that was visible to the public, detailing the 2-hour delay.
Unable to get a message out through the FlashAlert system, they sent out a regular old e-mail to a news-org mailing list they found on the FlashAlert site, directing the news organizations back to the FlashAlert page they'd made.
"It was coming out of Beijing," says Craig Walker, who runs the FlashAlert site. "Out of a server in China. Why anyone
in China would care about a 2-hour delay, I don’t know."
Now sure, it's possible to disguise or mask an IP address—so that one likely case is that a young and amazingly heroic and brilliant high schooler could still have been trying to get out of waking up for a history exam in the morning.
A very petty conspiracy theorist might surmise that the Chinese government is trying to garner competitive advantage by removing two hours of valuable education from U.S. schools.
But short of the created webpage being larded with profit-producing malware, we prefer to believe something else altogether.
We like to think that somewhere in China, someone was trying to send Portland's children a gift for the holidays—kind of like the cigarettes and whiskey packed in with a shipment of home electronics.
It didn't work, of course. But thanks for the magic and the memories, Beijing.