American hackers targeted more than 400 schools with a bomb hoax, as more than a dozen police forces across the country launch investigations.
Many schools sent urgent messages to parents asking them to pick their children up on Monday morning and drew up emergency evacuation plans, after receiving an email which claimed a student had been sent in with a bomb which would blow up within hours.
Hackers, writing partly in English and partly in Arabic, demanded that each school must pay them a ransom and threatened to detonate the bomb if they money did not arrive. “We have sent in a student with a bomb,” the email said. “The bomb is set to go off in 3 hours time. If you do not send us $5,000 USD to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“If you do not send the money! We will blow up the device. Our site has all the information needed. If you try to call the cops we WILL blowup [sic] the device on the SPOT! ANY attempt at defusing it your self [sic] will cause it to explode.”
Manor Park Primary Academy in Sutton, Surrey, wrote to parents saying “We have received a bomb threat saying that a bomb will be going off at 12.30pm today. Please come and collect your child now from the school from the usual collection point.”
The message warned parents to stay away from the site after 11.30am, adding that any children still on site at this point will be evacuated to a nearby car park.
St Marylebone School, an all-girls' school in Westminster, London said that their neighbouring primary school was evacuated after receiving the hoax bomb threat. “This went smoothly. Once all clear was given, normal activity resumed; Blandford was re-opened.”
Parents around the country raced to pick their children up from school, with one exasperated mother writing on Twitter: “My daughter’s school has been evacuated because of a bomb threat and I’m still miles away in an Uber racing to get her home safely.”
Police forces around the UK - including Greater Manchester, North Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, the West Midlands, Surrey and Scotland Yard - said they are investigating a “malicious communication”. They advised that the message was a “national hoax” which detectives believe originated from the US.
Det Supt Tony Cockerill of Humberside Police said: “We have been liaising with our counter terrorism colleagues across the country and it is not believed that the threats are credible.
“We have spoken to all schools who have contacted us, reassured them that there is no need to evacuate and offered them security advice.”
We do not believe there is any genuine threat following a number of schools receiving a bomb hoax this morning. See out full statement here https://t.co/uy0hLvUwVZ— North Yorkshire Police (@NYorksPolice) 19 March 2018
A spokesman for North Yorkshire Police said that detectives from their cybercrime unit reviewed the messages sent to schools and “do not believe there is anything genuine” about the threats.
Contact details given on the hoax email suggested it was from VeltPvP, a server for the popular computer game Minecraft, but they released a statement saying that they have “nothing to do with” it.
Carson Kallen, chief executive of VELT, the Michigan-based company that runs VeltPvP, told The Telegraph that they believe the email was set from "a group of hackers" who have been targetting them over social media and "harassing employees" for the past few weeks.
“We've been being harassed by a group of cyber criminals that are trying to harass us in any way possible,” a spokesman for VeltPvP said. “We're extremely sorry for anyone who had to deal with this, but just know it's fake.”
A spokesman from the National Police Chief Council said: "Police forces are aware of a series of malicious hoax communications to schools across the country.
“Enquiries continue to establish the facts and forces are working together to investigate who is responsible.
"Police take hoaxes extremely seriously. They divert police resources and cause disruption and alarm to the public.”