TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Students Charged With Computer Trespass

Students Charged With Computer Trespass

Michael Rubinkam (
Wed, 10 Aug 2005 12:32:45 -0500

By MICHAEL RUBINKAM, Associated Press Writer

They're being called the Kutztown 13 -- a group of high schoolers
charged with felonies for bypassing security with school-issued
laptops, downloading forbidden Internet goodies and using monitoring
software to spy on district administrators.

The students, their families and outraged supporters say authorities
are overreacting, punishing the kids not for any heinous behavior --
no malicious acts are alleged -- but rather because they outsmarted the
district's technology workers.

The Kutztown Area School District begs to differ. It says it reported
the students to police only after detentions, suspensions and other
punishments failed to deter them from breaking school rules governing
computer usage.

In Pennsylvania alone, more than a dozen school districts have
reported student misuse of computers to police, and in some cases
students have been expelled, according to Jeffrey Tucker, a lawyer for
the district.

The students "fully knew it was wrong and they kept doing it," Tucker
said. "Parents thought we should reward them for being creative. We
don't accept that."

A hearing is set for Aug. 24 in Berks County juvenile court, where the
13 have been charged with computer trespass, an offense state law
defines as altering computer data, programs or software without

The youths could face a wide range of sanctions, including juvenile
detention, probation and community service.

As school districts across the nation struggle to keep networks secure
from mischievous students who are often more adept at computers than
their elders, technology professionals say the case offers multiple

School districts often don't secure their computer networks well and
students need to be better taught right from wrong on such networks,
said Internet expert Jean Armour Polly, author of "Net-mom's Internet
Kids & Family Yellow Pages."

"The kids basically stumbled through an open rabbit hole and found
Wonderland," Polly, a library technology administrator, said of the
Kutztown 13.

The trouble began last fall after the district issued some 600 Apple
iBook laptops to every student at the high school about 50 miles
northwest of Philadelphia. The computers were loaded with a filtering
program that limited Internet access. They also had software that let
administrators see what students were viewing on their screens.

But those barriers proved easily surmountable: The administrative
password that allowed students to reconfigure computers and obtain
unrestricted Internet access was easy to obtain. A shortened version
of the school's street address, the password was taped to the backs of
the computers.

The password got passed around and students began downloading such
forbidden programs as the popular iChat instant-messaging tool.

At least one student viewed pornography. Some students also turned off
the remote monitoring function and turned the tables on their elders_
using it to view administrators' own computer screens.

The administrative password on some laptops was subsequently changed
but some students got hold of that one, too, and decrypted it with a
password-cracking program they found on the Internet.

"This does not surprise me at all," said Pradeep Khosla, dean of
Carnegie Mellon University's engineering department and director of
the school's cybersecurity program.

IT staff at schools are often poorly trained, making it easy for
students with even modest computer skills to get around security, he

Fifteen-year-old John Shrawder, one of the Kutztown 13, complained
that the charges don't fit the offense. He fears a felony conviction
could hurt his college and job prospects.

"There are a lot of adults who go 10 miles over the speed limit or
don't come to a complete stop at a stop sign. They know it's not
right, but they expect a fine" not a felony offense, he said.

Shrawder's uncle, James Shrawder, has set up a Web site that tells the
students' side of the story.

"As parents, we don't want our kid breaking in to the Defense
Department or stealing credit card numbers," said the elder Shrawder,
a businessman. "But downloading iChat and chatting with their friends?
They are not hurting anybody. They're just curious."

The site,, has been visited tens of
thousands of times and sells T-shirts and bumper stickers, including
one that says: "Arrest me, I know the password!"

The district isn't backing down, however.

It points out that students and parents were required to sign a code
of conduct and acceptable use policy, which contained warnings of
legal action.

The 13 students charged violated that policy, said Kutztown Police
Chief Theodore Cole, insisting the school district had exhausted all
options short of expulsion before seeking the charges. Cole said,
however, that there is no evidence the students attacked or disabled
the school's computer network, altered grades or did anything else
that could be deemed malicious.

An association of professional computer educators, The International
Society for Technology in Education, believes in a less restrictive
approach to computer usage. The more security barriers a district puts
in place, the more students will be tempted to break them down, it

"No matter how many ways you can think to protect something, the truth
is that someone can hack their way around it," said Leslie Conery, the
society's deputy CEO. "The gauntlet is thrown down if you have tighter

On the Net:
Students' site:
Kutztown Area School District's response:

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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