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California High Schooler Changes Grades After Phishing Teachers, Gets 14 Felonies for His Efforts (gizmodo.com) 343

Police in Concord, California arrested a teenager earlier this week and charged him 14 felony counts after discovering the high schooler launched a phishing campaign directed at teachers in order to steal their passwords and change grades. From a report: The 16-year-old student, whose name was not released because he's a minor, was arrested Wednesday following an investigation launched by local law enforcement, with assistance from a Contra Costa County task force and the US Secret Service, KTVU reported. Reports of the hack first started to trickle into police two weeks ago, when teachers in the Mount Diablo Unified School District started receiving suspicious emails in their inbox. As it turns out, they were part of a phishing attempt launched by the student. The email messages contained a link that sent the recipients to a fake website constructed by the student to look like the school's portal. If a teacher clicked on the link, they were directed to the site that would prompt them to enter their username and password. The site would record any information entered, allowing the student to hijack the teacher's account.
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California High Schooler Changes Grades After Phishing Teachers, Gets 14 Felonies for His Efforts

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  • Zero Tolerance (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @12:07AM (#56606446)

    That's almost 5 days' worth of felonies. Too bad 'zero tolerance' replaced 'let the punishment fit the crime.'
    If he's lucky, the FBI will hire him and get him a shorter/commuted sentence.

  • Harsh. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 14, 2018 @12:09AM (#56606450)

    A felony is a massive life-altering consequence that is not necessarily the most useful way to address or punish a problem. The kid's sixteen. Would you charge a kid with sixteen felonies for opening a teacher's grade book and turning an F into an A with an old-fashioned pen? The fact that he used computers to do it shouldn't increase the punishment.

    • Re:Harsh. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @04:19AM (#56607038) Journal

      The fact that he used computers to do it shouldn't increase the punishment

      I agree. But this is a bit more serious than sneakily messing with the grade book between classes. More like having the janitor called away from his office on some pretext, sneaking in there to steal his keys, duplicating them, then using the keys to break into the school at night and change the grade book.

      Still, not something that warrants a felony charge. With kids, focus of the sentence should be on rehabilitation rather than retribution. How this this work with minors in the USA anyway, does a juvie conviction stay on one's permanent record?

      • Re:Harsh. (Score:5, Informative)

        by fafalone ( 633739 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @05:45AM (#56607242)
        At 16, he'll probably be charged as a minor depending on the state and exact offense (more serious crimes would definitely get someone tried as an adult at 16 tho). As long as he's charged as a minor, it's not on his 'permanent record' in the sense it's sealed, so he doesn't have to say (and court checks won't show) that he's a convicted felon after he turns 18 (or 21 in some cases).
      • Re: Harsh. (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Actually, I did something along those exact same lines but for unfettered access to the computer lab. I got caught and my principal took pity on me and allowed me to take a Commodore 64 home on weekends and drafted me a specific note allowing me computer time anytime my class work was complete.

        No cops called..

        Oh the memories ...

    • Come on now... You could only turn an F into a B without it standing out like a sore thumb.

    • Maybe if he did it sixteen times to sixteen different teachers, yeah.

    • That is a decision to be made by the juvenile court system. It's not on the school or the police to protect young criminals from justice.

  • Lowering grades? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @12:09AM (#56606452)

    If he just raised random people's grades (so as not to point only to himself), it might have slipped by un-noticed. But students who got lower-than-expected grades would likely complain, causing an investigation. Hoist by his own petard, so to speak.

    Should we ruin his life with 14 felonies over it? Nope. He needs a slap in the hand and some direction, not serious jail time and a record. Unpaid community service conducting teacher training on cybersecurity and Internet hygiene would be about right.

    But 'murkah and harsh "justice."

    • If he just raised random people's grades (so as not to point only to himself), it might have slipped by un-noticed.

      According to TFA, he did do that. He both raised and lowered the grades of other students.

      They caught him by the IP address in the logs, which they tracked to his home address. He should have logged in from the library.

    • Should we ruin his life with 14 felonies over it? Nope.

      I completely agree - this should be handled internally by the school. However, if parents are going to use the courts to stop their kids being punished by schools then it's not surprising that schools have ended up having to use the courts to punish students. Courts are not at all designed to cope with misbehaving schoolkids and the result is that either they get off scot-free or they end up with life-ruining consequences.

      • Please, the school can do nothing to him. Worst thing they could do is expel him, BFD. He needs more than that, though 14 felonies is overkill. One felony charge in juvenile court would be fine, sealed when he turns 18. Of course this is just to get him to a plea bargain. If he has a competent lawyer this won't ruin his life.
        • by flink ( 18449 )

          Please, the school can do nothing to him. Worst thing they could do is expel him, BFD. He needs more than that, though 14 felonies is overkill. One felony charge in juvenile court would be fine, sealed when he turns 18. Of course this is just to get him to a plea bargain. If he has a competent lawyer this won't ruin his life.

          So if in addition to illicit computer use, if he's guilty of the crime of being poor, then he's fucked.

    • No need to worry. His record will be sealed when he turns 18. No one will have access to it.

      His school record, however, that's not going to look good to prospective colleges.

  • by ITRambo ( 1467509 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @12:10AM (#56606458)
    The fools that charge the kid with felonies risk putting a talented hacker onto a road to a life of crime by introducing him to real felony criminals in prison, if it went that far. While his hacks were easily reversible, they should show some respect for his skill at exposing the ignorance of this teachers, and put him on a good path and not possibly in prison, by forcing him to teach teachers how to avoid the folly that they fell for. This is the epitome of a victimless crime.
    • Victimless apart from his stupid lowering of other students' grades. But hey, he's 16, no one has good judgment at age 16.
    • Talented hacker?

      He got caught, for God's sake.
      He's a stupid.

          -- Zohan Dvir

    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @01:24AM (#56606630)
      The stupid thing is he's probably going to face a harsher punishment than the people responsible for the Equifax leak [slashdot.org]. All he did was try to change his grades. Equifax put over a hundred million people's credit and finances at risk.

      Though I have to say, if he'd put as much effort into studying as he did setting up this phishing attempt (create a website which mimics the official school site?), he probably wouldn't have needed to change his grades.
      • When I was about 12 I had this brilliant idea: learn Braille, tape the cheat sheets under my trousers and then I can read them in tests and it looks just like I'm rubbing or scratching my thighs.

        I realised it'd be easier to just study for the tests.

        • That reminds me of how I was... in middle and high school, I had a TI-89, which to those unfamiliar, has all sorts of advanced stuff like symbolic manipulation (like a+a=2a, or integrate(ln(x)) returns x*ln(x)-x), and BASIC + Motorola 68k asm. I'd spend hours and hours writing programs that did all the work for me. Since I was the only one in any of the classes that had one (everyone else had 83s), and the teachers didn't quite understand what the 89 could do either, they never stopped me. First, it was the
      • by houghi ( 78078 )

        Sometimes the cheating part is the fun part. I remember once that I had a way to cheat. Basically a paper on an elastic band that I could pull out and then let go in my sleeve of my jacket.

        I even told the teacher that I was going to cheat. I cheated and did not get caught. Did I need to cheat? No. I did not even need to look at the cheat sheet,but did anyway, because it was fun.

        If I would have had the Internet as a kid I could imagine that I would have tried something similar. Especially after watching some

      • by rhazz ( 2853871 )

        if he'd put as much effort into studying as he did setting up this phishing attempt, he probably wouldn't have needed to change his grades

        It's not surprising that he would put a huge amount of effort into something he found interesting and motivating, and was probably failing his other classes he hated (English class anyone?). I knew a guy in high school who had a seriously high IQ - he was the lead of the school team that does those trivia competitions and he would take a class's textbook home and read it for fun and ace the class tests. And he nearly failed every subject because he wouldn't do any of the assigned work which accounted for a

      • We are talking about high school here, is there anything you would have to actually study? If you were even half-awake during class it is usually trivially easy to ace any high school test.

        Failing a class in high school is caused by not spending hours and hours per day grinding out boring, repetitive homework assigments (which often count for 50% of your grade), not failing to learn the trivially easy material.

    • Well he needs to learn his lesson somewhere. The situation clearly called for a man-in-the-middle attack.
    • You are buying into the hype. This isn't meant to send him to prison. This is meant to get him to take a plea deal while impressing upon him that this was serious. Any halfway decent lawyer will see that the kid serves no time in proper jail. Since he apparently thought this was OK, he is in need of something. Exposing the ignorance of his teachers is not a good excuse. You could use that for so many cases, you can't make "it was easy" a mitigation.
  • In my day... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kaenneth ( 82978 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @12:25AM (#56606496) Homepage Journal

    I used a keylogger entered into the machine with physically blocked ports via crashing the teacher app to DOS by entering a password longer than 255 characters then using "COPY CON: KL.COM" and ALT-numpad entered machine code from my notebook to copy the next characters typed (which would be the next teachers password) to high memory for me to retrieve later.

    I only used it to lower bullies grades, not boost my own.

    • Maybe of interest: https://bullies2buddies.com/ [bullies2buddies.com]

      From the website: "What the [Golden Rule] really means is, We should be nice to people even when they are mean to us. ... The [Golden Rule] is the therefore the ultimate empowerment. It is the solution to being a victim. A victim reacts. A victim's behavior is therefore controlled by the bully. But in order to not be a victim, we must act independently of the bully's actions. We treat them like friends even when they treat us like enemies. And that way we end u

  • by MrKaos ( 858439 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @01:14AM (#56606610) Journal

    Evidently he wasn't hacking to learn.

  • Keep in mind these are 14 felony *charges*, not convictions. Prosecutors always go for the maximum they can charge so defendants can plea-bargain down to something more reasonable. Although a court date is set, it will probably be settled in a plea bargain and never go to a jury trial. Given how it's the kid's first offense and the lesser gravity of the "crimes" (altering grades is less serious than stealing money, copyright infringement, or NSA documents), the actual convictions will probably be plea bargained down to misdemeanors and the kid will probably be slapped with a hefty fine (which his parents will be on the hook for, as he is a minor), do some non-trivial community service time, and have restrictions placed on his internet access for a period of time (maybe 1-2 years). Worst case: the prosecutor is an overzealous asshole and wants to make an example of the kid. If so, the poor kid's life is seriously f**ked.
    • by zippthorne ( 748122 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @02:17AM (#56606728) Journal

      Prosecutors always go for the maximum they can charge so ... it will probably be settled in a plea bargain and never go to a jury trial.

      You don't think maybe there is a problem with the legal system when this is a thing? That prosecutors have a tool they can use to avoid having to prove their cases? That they not only have the will to do this, it is basically standard operating procedure at this point?

      • Sadly, it pretty much is standard operating procedure anymore. I recall a quote about the justice system where somebody said that plea bargains aren't just a part of the justice system, they ARE the justice system. It isn't hard to see why that is. It takes time and money to schedule a judge, assemble a pool of potential jurors, select 12 from that pool to be on the jury, hold the trail to determine guilt, and then hold another court session for sentencing. The criminal justice system would quickly grind to
      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        You don't think maybe there is a problem with the legal system when this is a thing?

        Plea bargaining is not bad, it's the American mockery of it. Here in Norway a typical plea length is ~80% of what the prosecution will ask for at trial, which seem sufficient for the vast majority of cases where the evidence is compelling. It's not worth gambling on a 1% technicality, while if they're trying to bring a dubious case to trial the risk of the full 100% is not going to scare off the innocent. In the US it's more like we have this scrap of evidence of a misdemeanor, take this plea bargain for 3

    • That there is even a small chance a schoolboy might be tossed in the Gulag for cheating on his grades, brings the Law itself into ridicule and disrepute.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @04:13AM (#56607010)

    I bet that the teacher is not going to be at least reprimanded for being stupid enough to be phished by a kid.

    This is why security doesn't work. Being stupid is not being punished.

    • by mentil ( 1748130 )

      Punishment means, by definition, that it makes an organism less likely to do something in the future.
      However, there's no cure for stupid.

    • I bet that the teacher is not going to be at least reprimanded

      And so he shouldn't be. The onus is not on ensuring everyone is not an idiot. The onus is on the people employing the idiots to empower them with knowledge. I'm willing to bet you this teacher has never so much as heard of the term "phishing" much less knows what to look out for.

      Punishing people for things they don't know is not a winning strategy.

      • The onus is not on ensuring everyone is not an idiot.

        You're correct in that not everybody will be talented at everything. However, if the school is going to expect that teachers will be entering their grades into a website as well as communicate via e-mail, then "how to avoid being the victim of a phishing scam" needs to be a part of their baseline training.

        The onus is on the people employing the idiots to empower them with knowledge.

        So then are the employers on the hook for negligence in their duties to empower their employees with knowledge. This is a school. That is literally the point of the institution. In addition, "being able to

  • Bueller. Bueller. Bueller.

    Mind you, he never got caught.

  • by Reverend Green ( 4973045 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @05:34AM (#56607216)

    Have these law enforcers gone completely mad? They charged a fucking schoolboy with 14 "felonies" for cheating on his grades. That's an outrageous abuse of office. I say let the little boy off, and lock up the deranged & dangerous law enforcer who laid those preposterous charges.

  • The individual who perpetrated these crimes might be non-white, hence, they are going to throw the book at him.

    I could be wrong, but this just seems to fit a narrative. If the perpetrator is white, well then, the person will likely get lenient sentencing.

  • by cascadingstylesheet ( 140919 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @09:06AM (#56607782)

    Believe it or not, engaging in fraud is actually illegal. No matter how dumb you think they are.

    And if you just "slap on the wrist", there's little disincentive to do it.

  • The original Ferris Bueler's Day Off where he didn't go to jail was better.
  • Don't they have better things to do than catching teens changing their grades?
  • Should be fined to within an inch of their collective lives. There is no excuse for having a system vulnerable to phishing. Class III digital certificates and IPSec would be completely immune to phishing scams. Authentication via Kerberos would be beyond most teens.

    Any member of staff that falls for phishing should be fired on the spot.

    Any exam system that allows you to modify grades directly should be quietly buried in a landfill. A given answer gets a given mark. Actually, in the U.S., it's mostly multipl

  • by bigdavex ( 155746 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @01:10PM (#56609292)

    Maybe he can hack in and reduce it to 1 misdemeanor?

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