Eighth grade "hacker" sues school district

Filed Under: Law & order

If you were a student and you hacked into your school's computer system you would probably expect there to be some serious repercussions.

In my day it could quite possibly have resulted in a swift thwack on the bottom with an old training shoe or being held back for detention. But the past is a different country, and we did things differently then.

Most parents today wouldn't condone corporal punishment (thank goodness), and some would probably even object if their offspring were punished by being told to write out in Bart Simpson-style "I shall not hack the school computer network" a hundred times.

And so, it's interesting to hear what kind of punishment modern-day school hacking suspects might receive, and how their parents may react.

Which leads us nicely to the story of Derek Harris, an eighth-grader at a school in South Pontotoc, Mississippi.

Last October, the young teenager was accused of hacking into his school's computers and installing a piece of keylogging spyware that would have been able to record activity on a computer when he was not present.

Now, according to media reports, Harris and his parents are suing the school district and its superintendent, saying the youngster should not have been suspended from the school and sent to another educational establishment.

According to a complaint filed on the behalf of the family by attorney W Brent McBride, Superintendent Ken Roye fired Derek's mother Phyllis Harris who worked as the school's secretary, but later admitted that Derek was not guilty of the accusations.

You do have to wonder whether the school had the right computer forensic knowledge to ascertain with confidence that Derek really did what he is alleged to have done. A question which is underlined by the plaintiffs' claim that the school later admitted he was innocent.

I do feel sorry for schools, though. They have a real challenge in securing and managing their networks with limited budgets and an ever-changing userbase, many of whom may not have developed a mature understanding of computer ethics.

Irrespective of the facts of who did what in this case, all young people need to be taught that viruses and spyware are not jokes, and that the integrity of other people's data needs to be treated with respect.

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About the author

Graham Cluley is an award-winning security blogger, and veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.