Two students accused of hacking computer system

By Lindsey Connell - bio | email | Twitter

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -  Two students at Northside High School are being charged with felonies after police say they used a program to attack the Muscogee County School District's computer system.

Columbus investigators say in early November, different computers in the school district started having problems with the internet being extremely slow and on some occasions, not working.

At first, information technology workers thought it might be a technical glitch or a virus. Early on, they were able to figure out that the problems were coming from Northside but couldn't track them back to a specific computer. They were hoping once they found which computer it was, they could determine who had been using it.

According to investigators, the program that had been installed was overloading the system and started affecting computers in other schools since the school district's network is connected. The program would cause the internet, once accessed, to send 1000s of requests to the network.

Last week, information technology employees were able to pinpoint which room in the school the problems were coming from and realized whoever was behind it was not actually using a computer in the school. Instead, they were accessing the system using a remote device. The temporary program that was installed would get the IP addresses of computers in the system and attack, slowing the internet operations.

"You can plug in internet addresses to attack somebody. When you attack them, what you're doing is, you're flooding their network with internet packets. It's almost like sending capsules down a tube and if you can't pick the capsules up at the end fast enough, it'll flood and it'll actually cause that system to shut down or slow up. It sounds like your run of the mill computer prank. Flooding someone's network and shutting them down- there's no real gain in that. It's just malicious," explained Shane Woodman, a computer specialist who owns PC Paramedics on Warm Springs Road in Columbus.

Two male students were identified by school administrators and IT employees. The students will be charged with Computer Trespassing, a felony. They are being treated as juveniles in the case.

Adults, if convicted of that particular crime, face up to 15 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Columbus Police stress that no personal information or school records were breached and the students were only trying to slow the internet system down, not do anything like change grades. An investigator tells WTVM the students are "very bright and intelligent and thought it would be funny."

The case is being forwarded to Juvenile Court.

Below is a statement from Valerie Fuller, spokeswoman for the Muscogee County School District, regarding the incident:

"The school district and police are investigating a case involving two student suspects/juveniles in a series of district internet service disruptions, which slowed down or denied access to internet over a number of days throughout the district. The problem has occurred since early November to the early part of this week on several occasions. Technology has confirmed there is no security breach of information, no permanent damage to technology property, no loss of data. Of course technology problems/reports are being monitored through our Customer Service Department and also at the school levels. Administrators have been asked to review with their staff and students the policies on appropriate use of technology/school-district equipment and consequences related to any violations. The problem has been reported to the federal authorities, which is required, and could result in a felony charge."

Fuller could not answer specifics related to personal disciplinary action taken against either student.

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