- Students across the ACT received dozens of emails containing explicit content
- The Education Directorate says some students were able to access its network's distribution lists to spam other children
- The ACT's Auditor-General has previously criticised the Government's poor data-security and privacy practices
Students were able to access the ACT public schools' IT network and send graphic content to children across Canberra, including primary school-aged pupils.
Alongside links to pornography and requests for nude images, some of the mass emails contained photos of genitalia and dead infants.
In emails seen by the ABC, sent on Friday, students requested that the senders stop bombarding them with inappropriate material.
"Who are you all and why am I part of this," one student said.
"What is this? Stop emailing me, please and thank you," another student said.
Education Minister Yvette Berry said the incident was deeply concerning and her directorate was investigating it.
"My own children received some emails as well," Ms Berry said.
The minister said it was not yet clear exactly how many children had been exposed to improper texts and images.
The incident showed "our students are very tech savvy and we'll have to make sure we get on top of that", she said.
"Outside of school, it's very difficult for the Education Directorate to control what students access, but inside school there are safety measures in place that stop students from accessing these kinds of things.
"This is the world we're in so we need to make sure we continue to be prepared and resilient around these kinds of issues."
The Australian Federal Police, the eSafety Commissioner and the ACT's chief information officer are now involved in the investigation.
Preliminary findings indicate that students gained access to the system's email distribution lists and used them to spam other students.
Students shut out from computer network
Canberra's public schools shut off students' access to email and other Google resources shortly after the violations.
In a letter to parents, the Education Directorate said students would be unable to access their IT network until the system was secure.
"We are aware that some students have copied emails to their personal devices — we would encourage you to speak with your child and have them delete any content."
The letter also directed parents to advice lines for support.
The directorate acknowledged that the network-wide shutdown would affect students' ability to study or complete assignments over the weekend.
"Access will resume once the incident has been thoroughly investigated and appropriate controls put in place. Schools, parents and students are being advised if they received the email they should not forward it on and delete any copies they may have," it said.
In June, ACT Auditor-General Michael Harris released a highly critical review of the ACT Government's data security and privacy practices.
"ACT Government agencies have not clearly understood the risks and requirements of securing sensitive data, and are not well placed to respond to a data breach or loss of critical business systems," Mr Harris found.