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2 Students Are Accused of Altering Grades in Computer Hacking Case

July 26, 2006|Stephen Clark | Times Staff Writer

Two Cal State Northridge students have been accused of hacking into a professor's computer, giving grades to nearly 300 students and sending pizza, magazine subscriptions and CDs to the professor's home.

Lena Chen, 20, of Torrance and Jennifer Ngan, 19, of Alhambra are to be arraigned Aug. 21 on misdemeanor charges of accessing computers illegally and other counts. If convicted, they face up to a year in prison.

According to Cal State police, Chen confessed to getting access to the professor's account by answering a routine security question and changing the password.

"They felt the professor was unfair, and it was on behalf of all the students," said Frank Mateljan, a spokesman for the city attorney's office, which filed the charges. "They were trying to be college pranksters."

Mateljan said Chen also admitted assigning grades to nearly 300 students and giving Ngan, who was earning a D-plus, an A in the professor's political institutions course. The school would not release the professor's name.

Investigators said the professor's campus e-mail was being forwarded to an account created by Chen and Ngan, who were sharing a Northridge apartment.

Ken Swisher, a campus spokesman, said he knew of no previous incidents like this one. Political science professor Jane Bayes, who has worked at the school since 1968, said she remembered only one student hacking into a computer to change grades in the 1970s.

Nationwide this year, more than 800,000 people at colleges and universities have had sensitive information exposed in more than 30 security failures.

Chen and Ngan allegedly used the professor's personal information found on the university system to order pizza, more than 20 magazine subscriptions -- including for Time, Newsweek and Ebony -- and a shipment of blank CDs for delivery to the professor's home.

The professor received bills for the orders but was not charged.

"Identity theft and computer tampering are serious matters," Mateljan said. "We want to send a clear message that this type of behavior is unacceptable."

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