A Panther Creek High School senior was arrested Wednesday on felony charges stemming from a computer hack in which students’ grades were changed last fall.
Saivamsi Krishna Hanumanthu, 17, of 517 Pilot Hill Drive in Morrisville, was charged with accessing government computers and breaking and entering, both felonies, and a misdemeanor count of accessing government computers.
Hanumanthu is accused of committing the offenses between Oct. 6 and Oct. 22. An arrest warrant says the student unlawfully obtained the credentials for Panther Creek High’s data manager to get into the school’s computer system.
Panther Creek administrators called Cary police Oct. 13 to say they had discovered a hack of the school’s database. The investigation began to focus on Hanumanthu on Oct. 22, after a teacher saw him in a darkened classroom, seemingly working on a laptop computer, according to search warrants that police got in November for his home and computers there.
According to the warrant, school information technology officials had determined that someone had found a way to embed a keystroke logger program to an email a teacher sent to the school’s data manager on Oct. 1. That program then was able to track the administrator’s typing and would record user names and passwords as they were typed. The hacker then could retrieve the information.
Between Oct. 6 and 9, police wrote, the manager’s account was used by someone else to change 90 grades – 45 of them for Hanumanthu. The hacker then had the computer recalculate class rank, and Hanumanthu rose from 67th to seventh. Some other seniors also saw their rank increase as a result of the grade changes.
Most of the changes were done from an IP address within the school’s computer system, but one came from a library branch where police learned Hanumanthu was a volunteer, they told a magistrate.
After Hanumanthu was seen in the teacher’s classroom after hours, police said, the teacher found that Hanumanthu’s most recent grade in that class had been altered, the warrant application said.
As a result of the hack, Panther Creek High pledged to send corrected transcripts to students and universities. Seniors submit their transcripts with their class ranking as part of the college application process.
Software on all of Panther Creek’s computers was removed and reinstalled.
Wake County school officials confirmed Wednesday that Hanumanthu remains enrolled at Panther Creek. Spokeswoman Lisa Luten said federal privacy laws for students prevented her from disclosing whether Hanumanthu had been disciplined.
Hanumanthu was released from the Wake County jail Wednesday after his family posted $15,000 bond.
Staff writer T. Keung Hui contributed to this report.