A former college student and a wrestler at the University of Iowa has been arrested and charged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for gaining unauthorized access into the school’s system on several occasions to obtain advanced copies of exams and change grades for himself and many of his classmates.
The accused, 22-year-old Trevor Graves has reportedly changed his grades more than 90 times during the period between March 2015 and December 2016 and changed grades for at least five fellow students on numerous occasions, said the FBI, according to the New York Times.
Graves who worked with an unnamed accomplice in the hi-tech hacking scheme secretly installed plug keyloggers into university’s computers’ for classrooms and labs, which allowed him to see whatever his professors typed, including their credentials to login in the university’s grading and email systems. He used the information to intercept exams and test questions in advance and to repeatedly change grades on tests, quizzes and homework assignments, read the criminal complaint submitted to an Iowa district court.
Grades were allegedly changed for a number of classes, including courses in business, engineering and chemistry. One student told the FBI that Graves provided copies of about a dozen exams before they were administered.
The student confessed to accepting the material because “he/she knew Graves was providing the copies to other students and did not want the grading curve to negatively impact his/her scores,” the NY Times reported.
The university officials had warned 250 university faculty, staff and student IDs and passwords that that “unauthorized individuals” had obtained their HawkID and password information.
The FBI arrested Graves at the end of October, in his hometown in Denver, Colorado but was later released on bond before making an initial court appearance in Iowa two days later.
According to the report, Graves is charged with “intentionally accessing a computer without authorization to obtain information, and knowingly transmitting a computer program to cause damage.” Both charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
The scheme came to light when an instructor noticed in mid-December 2016 that some of Graves’ grades had been changed without her authorization. The professor reported to campus IT security officials, who investigated and found the keyloggers. The FBI was called in to help with the investigation.
On December 29, 2016, the FBI and University of Iowa Police executed a search warrant that led to an off-campus search of his apartment in Iowa city where authorities found keyloggers, mobile phones and thumb drives that contained information of the stolen exams. One of the mobile phones taken from the apartment showed Graves being logged into a professor’s account and interacting with an attachment titled “exam.”
The phones also contained series of text messages exchanged between Graves and his accomplices talking about the scheme. Graves who referred to the keyloggers as “pineapple” in one of the messages asked a classmate to go to a class to see that the instructor had logged into her account and “that we acquired the info,” the report said.
The university told FBI investigators that the cheating scheme cost the school $68,000 to conduct internal investigation, respond to the breach and take remedial steps to enhance IT security.