« Ind. Law - "Prison sentence of 12-year-old prompts new juvenile sentencing law" | Main | Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decides one Indiana case today, a reversal »

Friday, June 14, 2013

Ind. Courts - "3 charged in sophisticated bid to change Purdue grades" [Updated]

Sophia Voravong reports today in a long story in the Lafayette Journal-Courier. Some quotes:

On paper, Roy Chaoran Sun was a remarkable student who earned straight A’s in at least 10 engineering courses at Purdue University — eventually graduating with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in May 2010.

So, too, was his friend, Mitsutoshi Shirasaki, an aeronautics and astronautics major from Japan. Among 24 courses during Purdue’s spring 2010 to fall 2012 semesters, the lowest grades Shirasaki received were a handful of B’s. The rest were A’s and A pluses.

But, investigators say, their high marks weren’t due to hard work and studying. Instead, the duo hacked into their professors’ university accounts and gave their report cards a significant boost, court documents allege.

In April, the Tippecanoe County prosecutor’s office charged 24-year-old Sun, 24-year-old Shirasaki and a third acquaintance, 24-year-old Sujay Sharma, with multiple felonies and misdemeanors — among them, conspiracy to commit computer tampering, conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to commit computer trespass.

The charges, filed in Tippecanoe Superior Court 2, were unsealed and made public Thursday afternoon.

“This was no outside attack. This was … students who were very smart, who decided to take their knowledge and their wisdom and used it for things they shouldn’t have used it for,” Purdue Police Chief John Cox said.

“Obviously, there will be consequences for that.”

Cox said he and Capt. Steve Dietrich, a Purdue detective who has been with the department for 30 years, believe that the alleged grade-changing scheme — and the extent of the alleged computer tampering — is a first for the university. * * *

The investigation began last November, when an engineering professor contacted the university’s information technology security services department because his password had been changed by an unknown party. Someone changed his password again in December.

Through that, Information Technology at Purdue officials learned that the professor’s account was accessed to change a student’s grade. ITaP contacted Purdue police on Jan. 3.

Shirasaki was identified as the suspect because he was logged into Purdue’s wireless network under his own account when he allegedly hacked into the professor’s account, changing his grade from C to B. Further investigation uncovered prior grade changes. * * *

According to the affidavit, Shirasaki claimed that he learned how to access professors’ accounts through Sun. It involved physically breaking into professors’ offices and switching their computer keyboards with identical ones.

The suspects allegedly installed key logging devices to the original keyboards, then broke into professors’ offices again to replace the original keyboards. The key logging devices allowed the suspects to figure out their professors’ account passwords. * * *

In mid-February, Shirasaki took investigators to an area near West Point where keystroke loggers, lockpicking devices, hard drives and other items were tossed after the suspects learned that police knew about the grade changes.

[Updated on 6/15] Sophia Voravong has a follow-up story today, reporting that one of the three, Roy C. Sun, had been arrested in 2009 by Purdue authorities:
Purdue Police Chief John Cox confirmed that he’s the same person investigators arrested in November 2009 on suspicion of terroristic mischief after a closed box was left in the Visitor Information Center, prompting an evacuation of the building on Northwestern Avenue.

The box’s contents were a parking ticket issued to Sun, then a senior studying electrical engineering, $20 and a wheel lock that had been placed on Sun’s vehicle because it displayed a university-issued parking pass that belonged to someone else.

A group of students protested on the West Lafayette campus because they believed police overreacted.

The Tippecanoe County prosecutor’s office ultimately declined to file criminal charges, but Prosecutor Pat Harrington had told the Journal & Courier that he believed Purdue authorities responded appropriately given how some terroristic attacks have been carried out since 9/11.

From a 2009 story about the arrest from a Boston NBC station:
Due to the fact that police thought the box could have been a weapon of mass destruction, Sun could face serious charges, such as terroristic mischief. Police say terroristic mischief is when an individual leaves something that a reasonable person may think is a weapon of mass destruction.

Many Purdue students are saying that the charges against Sun should be dropped. When students heard Sun’s story, some started a Facebook page in an attempt to free him.

“He left money and his name and all of his information in the box. Nobody knows how in the world someone who is trying to pay a parking ticket could get charged and arrested...People are saying this is showing how this country has gone completely insane,” said a Purdue student.

The South Bend Tribune today relates the 2009 arrest in a story with the inaccurate headline: "Suspected grade-changer has criminal past."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 14, 2013 02:13 PM
Posted to Indiana Courts