Felony Charges for Hacker Who Changed High Schoolers' Grades

A 29-year-old tutor faces felony charges after allegedly hacking into a California high school's network to change students' grades. The maximum sentence is 16 years in prison. 

It sounds like the plot of a Hollywood teen movie: Students at a high-performing Southern California high school, probably feeling the pressure to measure up to the high-class local community's expectations, reach out to a local hacker to help them raise their grades. Usually these sorts of movies sport a happy ending at which time lessons are learned and the guy gets the girl. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, the hacking scandal at Corona del Mar High School in Newport Beach seems to be lacking that quintessential Hollywood ending.


Instead, a 29-year-old tutor stands accused of hacking into the school's network to change students' grades. He faces felony charges and a maximum sentence of 16 years in prison. Today Timothy Lance Lai pleaded not guilty to 20 felony counts of computer access and fraud plus one count of second-degree commercial burglary. 

The Times' Hannah Fry explains:

"Investigators believe that Lai broke into Corona del Mar High in 2013 to place a device on the back of a teacher's computer to record everything typed on it. With that information, Lai was able to access the school's network between April and June 2013 and change three students' grades, investigators have said.

Based on further investigation, authorities accused Lai of changing students' grades on 16 separate occasions between Jan. 28, 2013, and June 14, 2013."

Eventually the teacher discovered that grades had been altered, the police got involved, the device (a keystroke logger) was recovered, and interviews with students led administrators to Lai, who then apparently incriminated himself in a recorded phone call with one of the students. Eleven students were expelled, a move some deemed rash considering some of the expelled only had a cursory knowledge of the cheating. One administrator accused the Newport-Mesa Unified School District of tossing the kids to the lions in an unjust show of force.

So what's the takeaway here? First, that the tools of academic cheating have evolved right alongside technology. If Lai is indeed guilty as charged, it appears he may have been too conspicuous in his grade alternations. Who knows how many school networks are currently compromised, especially since the gadgets needed to pull off a stunt like this are readily available

The second takeaway is that, as cheating and hacking continue to merge, the response from schools and law enforcement will continue to grow more rigid. Although it's highly unlikely Lai would serve 16 years in prison for such a crime, even the thought of over a decade in the clink for something like this could serve as a deterrent to imitators.

What's your take on this case? What kind of punishment is fitting for someone who hacks a school network to change grades? How will cheating continue to evolve in the future? We're interested in hearing what you think.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times.

Photo credit: Terence / Shutterstock

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Space toilets: How astronauts boldly go where few have gone before

A NASA astronomer explains how astronauts dispose of their, uh, dark matter.

Videos
  • When nature calls in micro-gravity, astronauts must answer. Space agencies have developed suction-based toilets – with a camera built in to ensure all the waste is contained before "flushing".
  • Yes, there have been floaters in space. The early days of space exploration were a learning curve!
  • Amazingly, you don't need gravity to digest food. Peristalsis, the process by which your throat and intestines squeeze themselves, actually moves food and water through your digestive system without gravity at all.
Keep reading Show less

Steven Pinker's 13 rules for writing better

The Harvard psychologist loves reading authors' rules for writing. Here are his own.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 21: Steven Pinker speaks onstage during OZY Fest 2018 at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park on July 21, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Ozy Media)
Personal Growth
  • Steven Pinker is many things: linguist, psychologist, optimist, Harvard professor, and author.
  • When it comes to writing, he's a student and a teacher.
  • Here's are his 13 rules for writing better, more simply, and more clearly.
Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less