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Teen Hacked Into Database, School Says

Chino student allegedly altered grades and tapped pupils' Social Security numbers.

May 21, 2003|Kristina Sauerwein | Times Staff Writer

A 17-year-old junior at Don Lugo High School in Chino allegedly hacked into his school's computer system this month, changing his and a classmate's grades and also tapping into confidential student information, including Social Security numbers, officials said Tuesday.

The boy, whose name is being withheld because he is a minor, was arrested May 14 at the Chino Valley Unified School District offices on suspicion of violating state theft and privacy laws.

He was released to his parents' custody.

The Chino Police Department has turned the case over to the San Bernardino County district attorney's office.

District officials mailed letters Tuesday to the school's 2,400 students, notifying parents and recommending that they contact the nation's three major credit bureaus and place a fraud alert on their child's file. Officials said 1,744 students had their Social Security numbers in the database.

The teenager acknowledged to district officials that he broke into the computer system, school officials said. He remained on suspension Tuesday and could face expulsion. The other student's role is still being investigated, they said.

"This is a unique occurrence," said Bob Blackery, the district's director of instructional support and technology. No other schools in the district were affected, he said.

Blackery said that, until this incident, he believed the school's computer system had never been tampered with by a student. The company that provides the software, Orange County-based Eagle Software, also said its programs had never been hacked into.

The firm provides software to about 280 districts in the state, Blackery said.

School officials said they suspect the student gained entry to the database from a computer on school property. In his backpack, they allegedly found a disk with a copy of the school's database.

"Things like this happen," said John Pruitt Jr., vice president of the district's school board. He and other officials noted that hackers have attacked the Pentagon, NASA and major corporations. "What I'm proud of is how quickly we acted."

After a teacher discovered the grade change in the computer, officials said they identified the suspected student within 16 working hours. They immediately began securing the system by working with the software manufacturer to change all passwords and computer pathways into the main computer.

The district is also seeking an external audit of its network security procedures.

Identity fraud is the fastest-growing financial crime in the nation, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

With a person's Social Security number, experts said, a con artist can assume the person's identity, obtain credit cards and run up debt.

An identify thief can buy houses and cars and deplete bank accounts, potentially ruining the victim's credit for years.

None of the evidence so far disclosed in the Chino case indicates that this has happened.

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