Paedophile warning for schools online

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Paedophiles are hacking into school internet and e-mail systems to obtain electronic addresses and make contact with children, a computer security expert warned yesterday.

Phil Ryan, a consultant who carries out work for the Government, criticised schools and local education authorities for not blocking electronic approaches by sex offenders.

Paedophile hackers can download hundreds of e-mail addresses of youngsters from school computers, he said. Once the addresses are obtained, the offenders anonymously contact the children and extract details such as their names and street addresses. The system in which hackers, including predatory adults, collect e-mail addresses is called "harvesting".

The warning follows a case in which a man tricked a 13-year-old girl, from Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, into meeting him after communicating with her on the internet and pretending to be a teenager. He asked the girl to send photographs of herself and built up a relationship with her.

Fortunately, the girl's mother insisted on going with her daughter during the visit and discovered to her horror that the "boy", who originally claimed to be 15, was in fact 47.

Mr Ryan believes a growing threat is posed by school internet systems. "It is relatively straight forward to hack into an e-mail server and obtain the addresses," he said. "It is also possible to get an e-mail address by putting in fictitious names until one matches with one of the pupils.

Schools should ensure all children know about the potential dangers of giving out personal details, he said. They should also install a programme thatl highlights e-mails from outside the school, or one that automatically checks messages for key "danger" words.

The Internet Watch Foundation said parents should warn their children not to give personal details, especially their names and address, to internet strangers or agree to meet them.