Student jailed for using keylogger to up his exam marks

Mortar board. Image courtesy of ShutterstockA university student who plugged keyloggers into his school’s computers to snatch staff passwords, access the exam application and jack up five test scores has been jailed.

The Telegraph reports that bioscience student Imran Uddin, 25, was sentenced to 4 months of jail time after using a keylogger to steal staff passwords at the University of Birmingham in the UK.

Uddin, who was reportedly on track to achieve at least a lower second-class degree – or 2:2 – increased his marks on five exams, including one from 57% to 73%.

According to The Telegraph, Uddin was jailed at Birmingham Crown Court after admitting six charges contrary to the Computer Misuse Act.

The newspaper quotes Judge James Burbidge QC as he addressed the cheating student:

For reasons not entirely clear to me, whether it was monetary, or pride or a desire to out-perform others, you decided to cheat and you formed a settled intention to do that. I consider your actions were planned and persistent.

This kind of conduct undermines or has the potential to undermine public confidence in the degree system, set up by this university. I have decided I cannot pass a suspended sentence because there needs to be an element of deterrence.

The court heard that Uddin attached a so-called “shadowing” device onto the backs of numerous school computers to steal staff passwords.

He came under suspicion in October when staff found a spying device while performing a routine upgrade on a computer in the bio-science building.

As a result, staff checked other computers and found three more keyloggers.

The prosecutor, Madhu Rai, told the court that one device had been attached to a computer in a “staff only” area in order to steal the password of employee Christine Chapman, who had access to exam grade software.

Upon searching his computer, police found that Uddin had looked on eBay for keyloggers and had also tried to enter the university marking system.

Balbir Singh, defending, told the court that Uddin was the only person from his family who had gone to university and at the time had put himself under so much pressure “that he could not see clearly.”

A university spokeswoman said that cheating students such as Uddin are subject to permanent expulsion:

The University cannot comment on individual cases, however, we take any criminal activity extremely seriously and work closely with West Midlands Police.

In additional to any legal sanctions, students convicted of serious crimes also face a student misconduct investigation and ultimately face permanent exclusion.

Uddin isn’t the first student we’ve heard about for hacking into school systems: last year, 11 US teenagers were expelled from a California high school after using a keylogger to gain access to school systems and bump up their grades, and a former Purdue University student was sentenced to 90 days in jail for changing his grades to straight-As, possibly by replacing professors’ keyboards with keylog-doctored versions.

Students who want to cheat aren’t the only ones who use keyloggers to steal everything someone types on a keyboard, including email passwords or logins for online bank accounts.

Spies and cybercrooks can and do attach spy hardware to public computers to steal private information: it’s happened at hotels in Texas and public libraries in England.

In fact, being careful when you use public computers or ATMs is just one thing that travelers should keep in mind as vacation season rolls in and business travelers head out to conferences.

We should all be mindful of keyloggers when we try to keep our data safe while traveling.

We should also tell our kids that boosting our grades by using keyloggers to break into school systems isn’t worth the potential jail time and criminal record.

The pressure may be high when it comes to keeping up with schoolwork and trying to look smart to prospective employers, but the reality is that it’s far better to be an honest B or C student than a student whose straight-As are as flimsy as tissue paper.

Image of mortar boarr courtesy of Shutterstock.