TOOELE, Utah (ABC4 News) – A domain name used by Tooele High School since 1998 is now being used to direct people to questionable and risquè material online.
According to the Tooele County School District the school was not going to repurchase the domain name after it expired on April 2, 2017. The school has used the domain name tooelehigh.org since 1998.
“As a district we decided to implement a new district website district-wide throughout the schools and all the schools stopped using their old domain names,” said Marie Denson, Communications Director for the Tooele School District. “We wanted to make sure that we had continuity across the board.”
The school district says a parent notified the school of the situation over the weekend when they logged on and saw the images. The district said they immediately took action to inform parents.
In a letter to parents, Principal Jeffrey D. Hamm wrote that the site license had expired and they had no intention of renewing it as the district had created new domains for each school within the district’s website; an action they had begun in March.
Tooele High School’s domain held for “ransom” until school pays thousands to purchase it back. The letter the principal sent out to parents pic.twitter.com/btrks9hq0E— Aldo Vazquez (@abc4Aldo) May 18, 2017
He informed parents that the “tooelehigh.org domain was acquired by an individual in the United Kingdom Sunday night through godaddy.com,” and had linked it to “an inappropriate website, in an apparent attempt to extract ‘ransom’ and hold the site ‘hostage’ until we repurchased it back.”
The letter goes on to say that TCSD officials worked to figure out who the person was who had bought the site and tried to figure out how to get it shut down.
“They reached out to this individual and said we’d like to buy it back because this is not in line with our values and that’s when the individual said sure you can buy it back for up to $10,000,” said Denson.
According to the district the rights to renew a domain name for a 5 year period typically runs for no more than $500. The school district said they would not be purchasing the domain name from this person for the thousands of dollars requested.
ABC4 News investigated the matter and found that the person who had purchased the domain name is allegedly named Al Perkins living in the United Kingdom; more specifically in St. Helier, Jersey, an island in the English Channel. It appears he had purchased the domain name on May 14th.
Good 4 Utah’s Aldo Vazquez reached out to Mr. Perkins who confirmed his identity, that he lived in the U.K. and that he had in fact purchased the domain name but said he would only speak with us if we ‘paid for his expenses.’
“It was a simple but bad decision,” said Eddie Lyman, whose 15 year-old daughter attends Tooele High. “It could have been very terrible and it still has a potential to be.”
Lyman who is also a security information specialist said it was poor execution on the part of the district.
“Anytime you’re moving a site you just renew the old one and just have them redirect to the new site for at least a year and in this case they created the new one and decided just not to renew it.”
He says this was the work of a ‘domain squatter.’
“Someone who sits and waits for domains to expire and then they grab them up and then they kinda hold it hostage hoping that somebody will pay them big money to get it back, and if not, in this case they send it to a site something we call click bait,” he said.
In this case it was redirected to thechive.com, an entertainment and humor-centered website. The home page displayed images of women in lingerie.
“Had this happened in the middle of the summer I doubt it would be near as big of a deal but right now when parents are logging on including myself getting on there trying to see the grades of our kids it’s causing quite a big deal,” he said.
In the meantime the school principal said in his letter that they have made every effort to ensure that the “Tooele High School’s good name and reputation are not sullied by redirecting our patrons to a site that is clearly not affiliated with our school.”
Unfortunately, what the person did isn’t illegal and the school says in hindsight they should have repurchased the domain name and had it redirect parents and anyone who accesses the website to the district’s website.
The letter says they apologize for the incident and guarantee that no one attending or working at the school had anything to do with the situation.