High School Student Charged in Computer Hacking Scheme

Class president at Cooper City High charged with changing grades of 19 students

By Douane D. James South Florida Sun-Sentinel Cooper City High School's senior class president was arrested Tuesday and charged in a grade-tampering scandal that has rocked the campus.

Ryan C. Shrouder, 18, of Cooper City, was taken to jail from school and charged with two counts of computer crime with intent to defraud, a second-degree felony, according to a Broward Sheriff's Office report. He was released from jail on bail, has been suspended from school and will be recommended for expulsion, said Joe Melita, head of the Broward County School District's investigative unit. Shrouder serves as the alternate student advisor to the Broward School Board. He often sits in on board meetings and was issued a school district laptop computer. Sheriff's Office investigators say Shrouder took advantage of that access and used an employee password to access the district's network and change the grades of 19 students. It's unclear whether authorities think he changed his own grades.

Shrouder was considered the main suspect, but other students could be punished for being involved, Melita said.

Shrouder's attorney said his client will plead not guilty and that he is being unfairly singled out.

"To charge a kid with a computer crime is absurd," said Fort Lauderdale attorney Fred Haddad. "There's plenty of ways to handle this besides charging a felony."

Shrouder had been elected leader of his sophomore, junior and senior classes at Cooper City High and recently was voted "most likely to be president" of the United States.

Rumors of the arrest spread quickly at the school Tuesday. Administrators delayed the second-period bell so students would remain in class while deputies took Shrouder from the school.

Kara Olesky, student government president at Cooper City High, said Shrouder was well liked and appeared to be "headed in a positive direction."

"We were shocked," she said. "We would never have thought anyone would attempt something like that."

The report filed by the Sheriff's Office detailed the alleged grade-tampering as follows:

On Nov. 2, an assistant principal told authorities that the school had begun investigating unauthorized grade changes. Course grades from previous years for 19 students, mostly seniors, had been altered.

Cooper City High's bookkeeper told investigators that in the week before the grades were changed she witnessed Shrouder in the office of the computer technology specialist looking for a "sign-on" password to the district network. The technology specialist had left his passwords on a notepad in his desk, according to the report.

Investigators later determined that the employee's sign-on account was the same one used to access the grades program and modify the marks.

A Cooper City High student witness told authorities that on Oct. 30 he saw Shrouder use his laptop to access the computer application that manages pupil grades. Another student said Shrouder approached her at a party the next day and said he altered her grades, along with those of other students.

Sheriff's Office investigators reviewed video surveillance and forensic computer examinations to back up the witnesses' statements, according to the report.

Advisors to the School Board are given laptops that have access to the district network for e-mail purposes, but they don't have the security clearance to log into the application that manages grades, officials said.

Last year, a West Boca Raton High student used employee passwords to hack into the Palm Beach County district network and change transcripts for students at four high schools. He was ordered to pay restitution and complete a yearlong program to avoid being prosecuted for felony computer fraud.

Staff Writer Jean-Paul Renaud contributed to this report.

Douane D. James can be reached at snipped-for-privacy@sun-sentinel.com or 954-385-7930.

Copyright 2006 Sun-Sentinal.

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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I suspect the poor guy is absolutely mortified today. I am reminded of the teenage kid in the 1950's who had a very cushy job working at University of Chicago in the telephone switchboard room. After graduation from high school he worked one summer on the overnight shift in the phone room -- alone -- and on those terribly hot summer nights between the hours of 3 and 5 in the morning with _nothing_ to do, he devised a scheme to defraud telco of its money on international long distance calls. It all worked quite well -- or so he thought -- until one Sunday morning.

6:45 AM on a Sunday morning in August, he was quite anxious to get off work. The two day shift operators started at 7, he would be free to leave, walk over to the Hyde Park Coffee Shop for breakfast, then go home to shower, change clothes and meet Mother for services at Rockefeller Chapel, where the very smart young man and his Mother were in charge of the after-service tea and little cakes served to the congregation as refreshments. Then, his intention was to spend the afternoon on the Promentory Beach at 55th Street exhibiting himself to others of his persuasion and nap for a few hours before going back to work that night.

Two day shift operators show up a couple minutes before 7 AM; he bids them adieu, walks to the elevator and rides down to the first floor. When he steps out of the elevator, two men approach him, both of whom were impeccably dressed. Calling him by name, the one man shows identification which identifies him as a telephone security representative for Illinois Bell; "and this gentleman with me is Officer (name), a Chicago Police Detective."

Oh my ... so that day, instead of breakfast at the hotel coffee shop followed by Chapel services and an afternoon on the beach, much of the day was spent at the Wentworth District police lockup, with his Mother there with money in hand to bail him out of jail. Later that afternoon, back at home, a registered letter arrived for the kid from the telephone chief operator at University of Chicago telling him he was officially dismissed and was NOT to return to work nor be on the premises again. Then the next day, Monday, his picture appeared in the Maroon -- UC daily newspaper -- with a story headlined "Overnight Campus Phone Operator Arrested on Fraud Charges."

Yes, I imagine Master Schrouder is quite mortified today by his circumstances. A teenager 45 years ago was likewise severely mortified in his attempt to defraud. PAT]

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