Threatwatch

11 teens expelled in California grade tampering scandal

Stolen credentials; Unauthorized use of user privileges

A Corona del Mar High School principal failed for months to warn parents about a private tutor and his suspected involvement in a cheating scandal that began at least as early as June 2013.

On Jan. 28, the Newport-Mesa Unified school board approved the expulsion of 11 students accused of hacking into school computers. Police say the students were aided by tutor Timothy Lance Lai. Those implicated and their parents say that Lai was working with approximately 150 other students who may have also been involved in the grade-changing scheme.

Although no charges have been filed, a search warrant indicates police were looking at possible felony counts, according to the LA Times. The newspaper reports that the tutor “masterminded a scheme in which students obtained the passwords and log-on information of teachers and hacked into the district computer system to change grades and access exams.”

Lai instructed the students on how to attach a keylogger device to various teachers' computers.

“With the recorded information, the students changed grades and accessed English, science and history exams, some at the honors and Advanced Placement levels,” the LA Times reports.

Jane Garland, a top district administrator, complained that the students were punished equally, rather than disciplined based on their varying levels of involvement, which she said ranged from breaking into the school to just having knowledge of the hacking scheme.

“Lai has disappeared, but the Newport Beach Police Department is seeking him for questioning,” the OC Register reports. “Officers searched his Irvine home and car on Dec. 18 and took away two hard drives, a cellphone, a book with a cutout containing an electronic device, a notepad full of student names and several math tests, among other items.”

Teachers are now going over more than 52,000 grades that were changed in the computer system to determine which ones may have been modified by hackers.

“Other than the students who implicated themselves – the district has no evidence who key-logged, who broke into the school, who had only knowledge,” Garland wrote in an internal email to the school board. “And yet all are receiving the same punishments.”

ThreatWatch is a regularly updated catalog of data breaches successfully striking every sector of the globe, as reported by journalists, researchers and the victims themselves.

sector

Education

reported

February 3, 2014

reported by

Orange County Register

number affected

Unknown

location of breach

California, United States

perpetrators

High School Student

location of perpetrators

California, United States

date breach occurred

Unknown

date breach detected

June 2013