Monroe High School students hack into computer, raise grades

MONROE — Four Monroe High School students are in hot water after a teacher’s online grade book was hacked into earlier this month.

The students, all underclassmen, were failing a science class and bumped up their grades to passing marks, officials said.

Two were directly involved in the grade-changing scheme, Monroe School District spokeswoman Rosemary O’Neil said. The others were aware their grades were being changed.

“That’s the very sad part of the story,” O’Neil said. “They were just so frightened of failing.”

One of the students inserted a keylogging device into the teacher’s computer. It allowed them to covertly record the sequence of key strokes the teacher used as the password to the electronic grade book.

They weren’t shooting for the honor roll. They merely boosted their grades to pass and get academic credit.

Keylogging devices have been around for decades and have changed with advances in technology. In the 1970s, they reportedly were used by Soviet spies on electric typewriters in the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Moscow and St. Petersburg. These days they sometimes are used as surveillance tools by parents checking on their kids and employers making sure company computers aren’t being used inappropriately.

At Monroe High School, staff investigated the grade-changing allegations after receiving a tip, O’Neil said.

The school also brought the case to the attention of a Monroe police school resource officer.

“We don’t expect a criminal charge,” Monroe police spokeswoman Debbie Willis said. “We are going to defer to the school and let them handle it administratively.”

The students received “appropriate discipline,” O’Neil said. She would not say if any were suspended or expelled.

As a result of the incident, students no longer will be allowed to use teachers’ computers “no matter how benign” the task might seem, O’Neil said.

What happened at Monroe High School is not an isolated instance of students tapping into technology to improve their grades.

Three years ago, the Seattle School District discovered teacher login passwords had been hacked at three high schools.

Earlier this year, a former Purdue University engineering student was sentenced to jail after changing eight Fs and a D to As. A classmate was spared jail after a felony conviction. A third student, who allegedly changed more than a dozen of his grades, left the country before he was charged.

In January, 11 high school students in California were expelled after a hacking scandal involving inflated grades. A tutor allegedly taught them how to use a keylogger.

There also was the case of a former student at a Nevada High School who tinkered with his grades just enough to be named salutatorian. He later acknowledged he changed his grades and those of 12 other students. He was charged with a felony and lost his college scholarship. As part of his sentence, he was ordered to go back to his high school and to talk to students there about the consequences of cheating.

O’Neil said she’s hopeful the students in Monroe learn a lesson and choose hard work over a quick fix.

“We don’t want them to be fearful,” she said. “We want them to be successful.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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