High school hacker who changed grades pays for his actions, now studies cybertech

Saivamsi Krishna Hanumanthu
Saivamsi Krishna Hanumanthu CCBI

A former Wake County high school student who hacked into his school’s computer system to change grades had his criminal charges dismissed Wednesday after he repaid the school district and completed community service.

Saivamsi Krishna Hanumanthu was a 17-year-old senior at Panther Creek High School in Cary in February 2016 when he was charged with accessing government computers and breaking and entering, both felonies, and a misdemeanor count of accessing government computers.

Under a conditional agreement reached in August, Hanumanthu was placed on 12 months of supervised probation and agreed to pay the school system $5,000 in restitution. He was also required to perform 225 hours of community service, which he was allowed to do outside of North Carolina because he now attends Florida Polytechnic University where he studies cybertechnology.

Wake County District Court Judge Keith Gregory dismissed the charges Wednesday after attorneys showed that Hanumanthu not only met all the conditions but performed more community service than required – 281 hours.

Steven Saad, Hanumanthu’s attorney, said his client juggled doing the community service at a nursing home while being a full-time college student with a perfect grade-point average.

“He’s a very responsible, intelligent young man,” Saad said during the court hearing. “He just really enjoyed his community service.”

Arrest warrants show Hanumanthu unlawfully obtained the credentials for Panther Creek High’s data manager to get into the school’s computer system in October 2015.

According to the warrant, school information technology officials determined that someone had found a way to embed a keystroke logger program to an email a teacher sent to Panther Creek’s data manager. 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.

Cary police wrote that the manager’s account was used 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.

Arrest warrants also show that Hanumanthu was seen in a teacher’s classroom after hours. The teacher found that Hanumanthu’s most recent grade in that class had been altered, the warrant application said.

School system records show that Hanumanthu graduated in 2016 from Panther Creek High.

Hanumanthu faced as much as three years in prison for each of the felony charges.

Saad said Hanumanthu, who wasn’t in court Wednesday because he’s attending summer classes, learned his lesson. Hanumanthu, now 18, will spend part of his summer helping to automate the airport in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, Saad said.

“He’s a very smart kid,” Saad said. “He’s a hard worker. He’s definitely the smartest client I ever represented.”

Crystal Reardon, the Wake County school system's director of counseling, discusses how school counselors routinely review grades and transcripts to guard against errors. Cary Police are investigating after a hacker broke into the computer system a

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui