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Hacking Higher Education

The cybersecurity challenge on college campuses lies as much with the students as with malicious outsiders.

InformationWeek Green -  Mar. 4, 2013 InformationWeek Green
Download the entire May 2013 issue of InformationWeek Education, distributed in an all-digital format (registration required).

Hacking Higher Education When a faculty member at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, logged in to the university's grade book last fall, she realized something was wrong: The grades in the online system didn't match her paper records. She was alert enough to see this was no mere glitch.

In March, after months of investigation, police charged two students with hacking the system to inflate grades. Police maintain that Beckley Parker, 21, of Weston, Conn., had changed his own grades for 17 classes since the spring of 2011, and also changed grades for 50 other students, according to the Dayton Daily News. David Callahan, 22, of Cambridge, Mass., reportedly changed his own grade once and two other students' grades. Although the facts are subject to interpretation, it seems the two were either trying to help fraternity brothers or other friends at the same time they were improving their own grades, or they may have been trying to cover their tracks by changing more than one grade in each case.

All it took for them to make the changes was an inexpensive keylogger device, inserted between the keyboard and the computer it was attached to, which allowed them to record the actions of teachers entering their passwords for the grading system. They were then able to access the system at will.

After cooperating with investigators, the students avoided being charged with a felony, instead accepting dismissal from the university and pleading guilty to multiple counts of "attempted unauthorized use of property," a misdemeanor.

Miami University's information security officer, Joe Bazeley, says an attack on the university's learning and grading systems is actually worse than the sort of attacks, namely information theft and exposure, that used to keep him up at night before the keylogger incident. "We produce knowledge and identify that via grades and a diploma," Bazeley says. The grade book hack "challenges the integrity of those grades and diplomas," he says.

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Unfortunately, examples abound in higher education of the other kind of security breach.

An undergraduate at the University of Nebraska last year was able to break into a database associated with the university's PeopleSoft system, exposing Social Security numbers and other sensitive information on about 654,000 students, alumni and employees. According to our sister website Dark Reading, the university was lucky enough to detect the breach and shut it down quickly. An IT staffer picked up on an error message that seemed like evidence of something amiss, and a recently installed security information and event management system helped network managers sort through system logs and collect enough evidence to allow police to get a warrant to confiscate the computer of the student believed to have been behind the attack.

In March, Salem State University in Massachusetts alerted 25,000 current and former students and staff that their Social Security numbers may have been compromised in a database breach. If the pattern of the last few years repeats itself, expect higher education institutions to experience another half dozen major security breaches by the end of 2013.

To read the rest of the article,
download the May 2013 issue of InformationWeek Education.

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User Rank: Ninja
6/16/2013 | 3:24:00 PM
re: Hacking Higher Education
I have worked on the
IT security team where I attend school, and they have several measures set up
for intrusion detection and penetration testing. Universities must keep up to date with threats
they are facing, by hiring third party red teams to try and penetrate their
systems. Not to mention these are
younger adults and maybe think they can us what they are learning and misuse it
for they own personal gains. At the very least Universities are more aware of
the threats they face so that they can better prepare for them.

Paul Sprague

InformationWeek Contributor
User Rank: Apprentice
5/27/2014 | 12:48:12 AM
Hacking Higher Education
Thanks for sharing such an integral topic to all of us readers. Hacking is the very powerful tool which is being used for negative purposes like manipulating online grades and results of universities which is such a shamful act for some students. It is required for the college to do some strict and fool proof online security measures to avoid such cases in near future. Chemistry Coursework
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User Rank: Strategist
1/8/2015 | 11:52:26 PM
Re: Hacking Higher Education

I agree with you about the thoughts you have shared too. Darkreadings always have something to offer. For any help with assignment you can contact me. 



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User Rank: Strategist
6/20/2014 | 4:59:14 AM
How to alleviate these incidents?

Thanks for sharing such news. I have never thought of this as a possibility. Students using some open source hacking software to hack into the system and pleading guilty seems like a story from some movie. 

I had a similar incident with Keylogger. Few of my friends installed Keylogger on my laptop and I was not aware of the changes. I entered my password and userid, and a text file was generated against every key i pressed. 

As the author pointed out about the learning from hacks, I did the same. I never hand over my laptop to anyone. 




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