Computer Crime Research Center


Fairview student arrested in grade tampering

Date: January 17, 2008
By: Vanessa Miller

A Fairview High School student has been arrested on suspicion of felony computer crimes after he admitted to using his cell phone video camera to steal the password for his teacher's online grade book and alter the grades of 48 students, according to Boulder police.

Officers suspect the 16-year-old student, whose name police won't release because of his age, videotaped his teacher's hands as she typed the password.

After being confronted about the grade tampering, the student admitted to changing grades on multiple occasions for numerous students this year. And, he said, he changed another teacher’s grade book last year, according to a Boulder police report.

The report was released late Wednesday, and no further information on that incident was available.

Although school officials have determined the teen acted alone, Fairview’s Assistant Principal Sarah DiGiacomo told police she was initially concerned the crime might involve a “much larger, yet separate, security problem.”

In investigating the possibility of “a large-scale security breech with the grade program,” DiGiacomo asked teachers to look for grade discrepancies.

The student’s suspected computer crime was pushed to the felony level because of the cost associated with restoring Fairview’s records: $2,178, according to police.

A Boulder police report gives the following account of how officials discovered the grade tampering Dec. 20:

Math teacher Linda Soderlund said she was entering final exam grades for her eighth-grade pre-calculus class when she noticed a “huge discrepancy” in one student’s grades.

“He was a D/C student who now had a final grade of 86 percent,” Soderlund told police.

She began to compare her handwritten grade book with the online version and found inconsistencies in class work and homework assignments for several students.

Fairview Principal Don Stensrud notified parents Dec. 20 of the grade tampering. The school, in addition to police, launched an immediate investigation, and determined the student didn’t hack into the district’s broader “Infinite Campus” system.

The teen was taken to Boulder County’s Juvenile Detention Center after his arrest and released to his parents later that day, police spokeswoman Sarah Huntley said.

Sophomore Christian Allen, 15, said he learned his grades were among those changed when school officials called him over the holiday break.

He said the changes were “really minor.” The score of one assignment had been changed by seven points, and another had been altered by 10 points. That resulted in a half-percentage difference in his final grade, Allen said.

“It didn’t really affect anything,” he said. “But the way he did it was whack.”

In the December e-mail, Principal Stensrud said many of the students whose grades were changed “had no knowledge of this student’s actions.”

District officials aren’t discussing the student’s punishment at the school level because of privacy laws.

Stensrud told parents in his December e-mail that administrators plan to “review protocols in the maintaining of password security.”

Contact Camera Staff Writer Vanessa Miller at 303-473-1329 or [email protected].

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