Authorities in Cary on Wednesday arrested a 17-year-old from Morrisville in connection with an October 2015 computer hacking incident at Panther Creek High School in Cary.
Saivamsi Hanumanthu, resident of Pilot Hill Drive in Morrisville, was charged with felony accessing government computers, felony breaking and entering and misdemeanor accessing government computers. If convicted on all the charges, the student could be sentenced to up to four years in prison.
Cary police began investigating a complaint filed by administration that someone had gained unauthorized access to Panther Creek High school database on October 13. During the investigation, police learned that multiple students’ class ranks and grades had been altered and one of them belonged to Hanumanthu.
According to a search warrant in the case, Wake County school officials discovered that an email sent from one Panther Creek High teacher to another a few days before the initial hacking contained keystroke-tracking malware. The malware was then was able to track the administrator’s typing and would record usernames and passwords as they were typed. The hacker would retrieve the information remotely.
The affidavit police submitted to obtain the warrant to search Hanumanthu’s home. The police stated that the investigation began to focus on Hanumanthu on October 22, after a teacher saw him in a darkened classroom, seemingly working on a laptop computer.
According to the affidavit, two weeks before that, the PowerSchool system, a state database that tracks student attendance and grades at the school, was hacked into on three separate occasions, and the grades and class ranks of six students were changed. Out of the total of 90 grades were changed in the system, Hanumanthu’s class rank improved from 67th to seventh, the warrant states. Some other seniors also saw their rank increase as a result of the grade changes.
Most of the changes were done from an IP address within the school’s computer system, but police found one hack came from a computer at the Wake County’s West Regional Library, on Louis Stephens Road, where Hanumanthu often volunteers, according to the warrant.
As a result of the hack, Panther Creek High promised to send corrected transcripts to students and universities. As a part of the college application process, seniors submit their transcripts with their class ranking.
Software on all of Panther Creek’s computers was removed and reinstalled.
Wake County school officials confirmed on Wednesday that Hanumanthu remains enrolled at Panther Creek. Spokeswoman Lisa Luten said federal privacy laws for students prohibited her from revealing whether Hanumanthu had been disciplined.
Hanumanthu was released from the Wake County jail on Wednesday on an unsecured $15,000 bond to the custody of his parents.