Teens face felony charges after hacking computers to change grades
Three Prescott High School students were arrested Wednesday after they reportedly changed their grades by illegally accessing teachers' computers.
Prescott Police Department investigators and Prescott High School administrators learned that three teenage boys had purchased a key logger device and, through various methods, attached it to the USB port of several teachers' computers starting in January 2013, Prescott Police Lt. Ken Morley said.
"The device keeps track of all keystrokes on the keyboard, recording everything," Prescott Police Lt. Tim Fletcher said. "The students were able to go back into that and isolate the teacher's usernames and passwords."
They then used that information to access their grade sheets from the high school library's computers, thereby using the school's IP address, Morley said.
Fletcher noted that police do not want to release more information about how it was done in order to keep others from trying it.
"One of the teachers noticed that the grade listed on the grade sheet of one of the suspects was not consistent with his efforts in class and she became suspicious," Morley said. "After contacting the IT department of PUSD, it was discovered the student's grade had been changed."
The teacher noticed the grade change "just this past week" as she updated grades for the year, Fletcher said.
The school did not learn about the grade tampering until Wednesday, a day before the last day of school, Principal Totsy McCraley said.
McCraley said they plan to meet soon with teachers to talk about ways to better secure their computers and passwords, and what to look for to prevent something like this from happening again.
Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Dave Smucker said the district was not yet sure how many teachers' accounts had been compromised.
"The IT department at PUSD is still doing research to see how many teacher's usernames and passwords were used," Fletcher said.
The school resource officer and a Prescott Police investigator interviewed the students and they reportedly admitted their involvement in the scheme, Morley said.
"Basically, they were not doing well in some classes and decided they wanted to change their grades to improve their outcome," McCraley said. "We are very disappointed in the actions of these young men, and we certainly expect more from our Prescott High School students."
McCraley noted that sometimes teens think they are invulnerable and may not realize the consequences of their actions.
The Prescott High School Administration and the Prescott Police Department said Thursday that the three students arrested were the only students involved, Morley said.
McCraley said all teachers at the school have checked their grade books to make sure no other grades were changed.
"At this time, we think that it's limited to just these three," McCraley said.
"We have taken all the steps that are available to us to make sure that this does not happen again," Smucker said. "The hard part about technology is that sometimes the kids are a step ahead of us.
"I think it's a really unfortunate situation," Smucker continued. "Part of the responsibility we have is educating students so they understand the technology we have and making good decisions on how to use it."
McCraley said this was the first instance of grade tampering like this during her time as principal.
"To my understanding, there was an instance in which a student hacked into the computer system years ago," McCraley said.
The three 16-year-old boys were booked into the Yavapai County Juvenile Detention Center on felony charges of tampering with public records and computer tampering.
The three students face consequences from PUSD as well, Smucker said, though he declined to say what those consequences are.
"We looked at our policy and procedures and took the necessary steps to dole out a consequence that was appropriate," Smucker said.
McCraley said the range of consequences for an incident like this ranges from out-of-school suspension to expulsion.
This story first appeared on dCourier.com.