Mom arrested for accessing school computer, changes kids' grades
A Pennsylvania mother was arrested for illegally entering a school computer system. Her alleged actions, for which she now faces six felony charges, include adjusting her kids' grades.
According to The Morning Call
, authorities say the Weisenberg Township mother used her knowledge of the Northwestern Lehigh School District's computer system to fudge her kids' grades.
Police say the woman is a former employee of the school district, having left to pursue another job opportunity in April 2011. It is said she had intimate knowledge of its systems, and was also privy to the superintendent's password, both of which she is accused of using to access the school's information systems.
It is alleged the mother changed her daughter's failing grade to a medical exemption and her son's score of 98 to a 99.
According to court records, Catherine Venusto, 45, reportedly admitted to changing the grades and using the superintendent's password, and the passwords of nine other employees, to gain access to the systems, including district emails and personnel files.
The court papers said she logged into the system out of "curiosity and boredom". It is alleged she accessed the system without authorization between Aug. 2010 and Feb. 2012.
The discovery of access was found in February of this year and a court order determined the suspect used three different computers to gain access to her former employer's system. It is alleged she used the superintendent's password 110 times, and entered the systems thousands of times.
“At the time, I didn’t quite have a grasp of the scope of what happened, but I was immediately concerned for protected information,” Northwestern Lehigh Superintendent Mary Ann Wright said. “We shut down the system within three hours of learning there was a potential problem.”
“When she [Venusto] resigned, we took her out of the system,” Wright said. “Unfortunately she found her way around security protocol through unauthorized access to my information.”
On July 18, the school district issued a statement
to inform about the data breach.
“The District assisted the Pennsylvania State Police in efforts to identify and apprehend the person responsible for this incident." Superintendent Wright said. “The acts were intentional, criminal action to obtain protected information."
The district noted there is "no evidence" any confidential information was used for illicit purposes, however, according to media reports, it appears the suspect did view sensitive data stored on employees and students.
The state police investigation found that no employee passwords had been changed since the time Venusto resigned. Many security experts recommend changing passwords approximately every 90 days and to create a strong password
"I'm concerned on numerous levels," said Jennifer Holman, Northwestern Lehigh School District's assistant superintendent, told ABC News
. "When we say systems, there were three different systems violated…There were 10 different users that at some point had their email violated."
The Morning Call reported, "Venusto told police she never thought what she was doing was illegal. Unethical, she said, but not illegal."
Venusto faces three counts of unlawful use of a computer and three counts of computer trespassing, all third degree felonies, reported The Morning Star. She was released on $30,000 unsecured bail.