Students steal passwords to change grades and gain access to records of 75,000 others

Incident Date: October 2004
Incident Location: Elk Grove CA USA

Three Sheldon High School students have used a stolen password to access their school’s student information system and change grades. The password was obtained using "spyware" that captured passwords according to a source, although a keystroke logging program appears to be a more accurate description.

In all, the passwords of 10 teachers were collected, including one associated with a system administrator account. The student information system containing the grades actually required teachers to use a username and password in addition to their network login credentials. Unfortunately, teachers used the same password for both systems, which eliminated any security benefits of the setup.

School officials said the boys admitted to tampering with their grades and the grades of friends. They also reportedly altered their disciplinary records.

Their illegal activity was detected around October 19 2004 when a teacher noticed that a grade in the system appeared to be different than expected. The Elk Grove California school district launched an investigation, bringing in the Sacramento Sheriff’s High-Tech Crimes Task Force.

Because the system also contained Social Security numbers and school records for 75,000 current and former students, the school district spent a reported $22,000 to mail out letters warning families of the privacy breach.

Password procedures at the school are being changed to require different passwords for the network login and student information system login. Mandatory password changes will now take place every three months.

The students have been suspended from the school and face potential expulsion. Whether criminal charges will be filed against the three is to be decided by the district attorney’s office.

Story Sources

Title: Students Accused of Hacking Computer, Changing Grades
Date: 11/5/2004
Publication: KCRA 3
Publication Location: Sacramento CA USA
Publication URL:

Title: Computer break-in at Sheldon High prompts warnings
Author: Sandy Louey
Date: 10/30/2004
Publication: The Sacramento Bee
Publication Location: Sacramento CA USA
Publication URL:

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