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Primary school website taken over by hardcore porn after IT mixup

When you clicked on the link, you were instead directed to a porn website with categories including ‘humiliation’ and ‘spandex’. The issue has since been resolved.

Image: Shutterstock/Stenko Vlad

A NEWRY PRIMARY school was left red-faced after an IT mishap allowed their former school web address to be taken over by a hardcore porn website.

St Ronan’s Primary School has a new website, but for an almost 24-hour period, anyone who typed the name of the school into Google was met with search results that directed them to the hardcore Russian pornography site.

When searching for the school’s name on Google, the first three results displayed links with information relating to the school.

However, when you clicked on the actual link, users were instead directed to a porn website with categories including ‘humiliation’ and ‘spandex’.

Mix-up

The mix-up occurred when St Ronan’s launched its new website. Principal Kevin Donaghy explained: “St Ronan’s didn’t own our old domain name, we bought it from a third party who had it before us, and we hired it off them in a sense. They would normally bill us to re-register it.

“But we didn’t know that our old domain had expired, nor were we informed that it was due for renewal. The third party purchased it from GoDaddy, who emailed the people who own the domain three times to tell them the domain name was due for renewal. But they didn’t pick up on this and they didn’t invoice us to renew it. GoDaddy did all they could to inform the third party that it was due for renewal.”

St Ronan’s had been transitioning to a brand-new website to celebrate its 25th anniversary.

Donaghy said: “We are 25 years open this year, and we informed parents that our old website would stay in its current position but that we would be launching a new one for our 25th anniversary.

It was only later that we became alerted to the fact that our old web address had expired, but by that time it had been purchased by someone in Russia. We couldn’t do anything to take it back because it has been bought by somebody else. Unfortunately, Monday morning at 10.30 am, we received a phone call from the PSNI to inform us that our old website, and it was our old website, had been turned into something very different.

It is an incredibly complicated issue, one hampered by the international factors at play. Donaghy explained some of these obstacles: “This is a hugely complicated and grey area and it involves working across time zones and international boundaries. We are a school in Ireland, GoDaddy’s HQ are in America, we are dealing with somebody who bought our old domain, and they are in Russia. This is something that spans internationally. I can understand how hugely complicated this is for everybody.”

Principal Donaghy is not aware of why the St Ronan’s domain name was targeted in this way, but was informed that there is often a dark trade in domain names. “I honestly don’t know what the motivation was behind the people who bought it,” he said.

“We are led to believe there is a trade in expired domain names, and whether that’s for good or bad intentions, there are people out there waiting for a domain name to expire to elicit money for them,” he continued. “This was not the case with us, we never got approached at all to pay for it to be taken down, nor was any money paid for it. But there is a trade in that.”

Kevin Donaghy praised the efforts of GoDaddy, who own the rights to the original web domain name. He also praised the PSNI and C2K, who offer IT services to schools in Northern Ireland.

“Because we’re probably the first school that this has happened to, it is a learning curve for all of us,” he said. “But I must say, Go Daddy in Belfast were offering advice and had been very good, as had the PSNI, as had C2K.”

SDLP Councillor Gary Stokes labelled this mishap as “vile”, and further said that it was “shocking and absolutely malicious.”

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Diarmuid Pepper

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