California students expelled for using a keylogger to hack teachers’ computers

Eleven high school students have been expelled after being caught bugging their teachers’ computers with a keylogger device, which they used to obtain username and password details. They then hacked into online assessment systems to change their grades.

SC Magazine reports that the students have been under investigation since last June, and were expelled from Corona del Mar High School on Wednesday last week, by unanimous vote from the Newport-Mesa Unified School District board.

According to the LA Times, the eleven students – who were aided by a 28-year old private tutor – could face criminal charges, although none have yet been filed.

Keyloggers record every key pressed on a keyboard, and can be either hardware or software. Hardware keyloggers are usually in-line connectors that sit between the keyboard and desktop PC; some can be controlled wirelessly.

The LA Times reports that private tutor Timothy Lai instructed students to attach a keylogger to teachers’ computers, and Police have been searching for Lai since December, but he has not been found.

Newport Beach police have been investigating since last June, after a teacher notified academic administrators that someone might have accessed her computer and changed grades.

As a result of the hacking, district officials now have to examine 52,000 grades awarded over a 12-month period to discover the exact scope of the scandal, CNet reports. The students changed their marks in history, English and science exams – some at Advanced Placement levels.

The Orange County Register quoted parents of some of the students expelled, who claimed the cheating was merely part of a much larger scandal. In a letter written by three families to the school board, they said that: “You cannot simply throw a handful of students to the wolves and claim that you have solved the cheating crisis. There are plenty more kids walking around your campus who are as guilty, if not more so, than any of the kids wrapped up in this scandal.”

Corona del Mar High School is located in an affluent area of Orange County where pressure is high to gain access to Ivy League schools. In 2009, 64 percent of students admitted some form of cheating on a test or quiz.

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