Concord: Student accused of hacking system to change grades is arrested

Concord Police say a student at Ygnacio Valley High School targeted teachers with a phishing scam and hacked into the Mount Diablo Unified School District computer system in order to change his grades as well as those of other students. 

Concord police say they called in the U.S. Secret Service and a Contra Costa County task force when they first got the report two weeks ago. The student, whose name is not being released because he's a juvenile, was arrested Wednesday on 14 felony counts, after investigators say they tracked down the hacking attack to the student's home. 

"We wrote numerous search warrants to get the IP addresses of the possible phishing site email. We got it and we did good old fashioned police detective work and we narrowed it down to an address," said Sgt. Carl Cruz, the Concord Police Financial Crimes Supervisor.

Sgt. Cruz says when they went to the address, they had more search warrants as well as a special canine from the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office K-9 unit. 

"It's a specially trained canine that is trained to find and sniff out hidden electronics," said Sgt. Cruz.

Turns out, Dug the dog, dug up a flash drive that had been hidden inside a tissue box. 

"He's a young man from the high school. And he seems to be a very intelligent," said Sgt. Cruz.

Police say the high school student had created a fake website and emailed teachers in a phishing attempt to get their log in and personal information. 

"He created a replica site that appeared trustworthy to the teachers which is why this one teacher actually logged into it," said Sgt. Cruz, "Once the student got it, he was able to access the Mount Diablo Unified School District IT network and therefore get into the grade system."

Police say the student changed his own grades as well as those of other students, raising some grades and lowering others. 

"We believe 10-15 students' grades were changed, but we're still investigating," said Sgt. Cruz.

At Ygnacio Valley High School Thursday in Concord, students heard about the arrest and were surprised. 

"He's a smart kid. So that's why everybody was like, why would he do that? He's normally quiet, but he has a lot of friends," said Imani Williams, an Ygancio Valley High School student.

"People were like, why did he do this? This wasn't necessary because when you lower grades, that affects people and their parents and stuff, so that affected them," said Williams.

Cybersecurity experts say phishing is a big problem. 

"This is actually very big and probably the most common problem in cybersecurity," said Rahul Kashyap, the Chief Technology Officer for Cylance, a California-based cybersecurity company.

Kashyap says while the student needed to have some computer science skill, there are online tools which help hackers.

"It is actually really easy to literally copy a website and make an exact replica of that. In fact there are tools available online where you could something like that in minutes," said Kashyap. 

"The parents were saddened. They know they have a smart son, They were cooperative with us and they were very understanding when we explained everything to them," said Sgt. Cruz.

A Mount Diablo Unified School District spokeswoman says the student has been suspended. 

Concord police say he was released to his parents while he awaits a court date.