Mom accessed school system 110 times to change kids' grades

Mom accessed school system 110 times to change kids' grades

Summary: A former secretary successfully changed her daughter's grade from an F to an M and her son's grade from a 98 to a 99. She used the school district's superintendent's password to pull off the deeds.

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TOPICS: Security
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Mom accessed school system 110 times to change kids' grades

45-year-old Catherine Venusto allegedly changed her children's grades by using passwords she obtained while working for their school district. She was charged with three counts each of unlawful use of a computer and computer trespass. The former secretary was arraigned Wednesday on a half-dozen felony counts and released on $30,000 unsecured bail, court records show. State police say she admitted changing the grades, and while she agreed her actions were unethical, she didn't think they were illegal.

Venusto started the scheme while she still worked at the Northwestern Lehigh School District, according to CBS News. Officials say she changed a failing grade to a medical exception for her daughter in 2010. She left Northwestern Lehigh's employ in April 2011. That didn't stop her. She's also accused of bumping one of her son's grades from 98 to 99 percent in February 2012.

Venusto used the Superintendent Mary Anne Wright's password to access district computer systems 110 times. The mother of two also used the information of nine other Northwestern Lehigh employees to gain access to district e-mails and personnel files thousands of times, according to authorities. The district found no evidence that any confidential information had been used for illegal purposes.

In February 2012, when a high school principal called to report that some teachers were asking why the superintendent was accessing the grading system, it was clear something was amiss. Wright said she never logged in to look at students' grades. The call triggered an immediate shutdown of the computer system and district officials said they later tightened security policies. All parents whose children's information was accessed were notified and meetings to address student and staff concerns were scheduled.

"The District assisted the Pennsylvania State Police in efforts to identify and apprehend the person responsible for this incident," Wright said in a statement. "The acts were intentional, criminal action to obtain protected information. We deeply regret this incident and that this unauthorized access occurred, and we sincerely regret any inconvenience this may cause. We are doing everything we can to prevent this from happening again, and new security procedures are in place to better assure that our systems are protected from such attempts."

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Topic: Security

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years,
he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars
Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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11 comments
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  • My question

    How did she get the Superintendents password? I would fire the Superintendent as well and make all district employees take a security class. What she did was wrong and illegal, but apparent lax policies and apparent sharing of passwords is like giving the keys to the car of a car thief.
    MrCaddy
    • I don't know . . .

      . . . what her position in the district was, but it's not uncommon for an executive assistant to read his/her boss's email, and to send under his/her name as directed. It's no different than typing a letter for the boss was in the old days. The school I teach at has three people who could do this for any student AT OUR SCHOOL with their own passwords. One is the counselling clerk, and the other two are the counselors.
      sporkfighter
      • That's a lot of trust that was betrayed

        But I suspect this is more common than we realize. Proper security practices are inconvenient and frequently ignored until someone in authority gets burned; then people will go overboard the other way.

        There's still no reason for anyone to know anyone else's password in a properly administered computer system. Hopefully, the lesson will be learned well.
        John L. Ries
  • social engineering at it's finest

    Agree with MrCaddy, fire the Superintendent! That will send a louder message than "new security policies" will.
    alex@...
  • Obsessives

    "Venusto used the Superintendent Mary Anne Wright's password to access district computer systems 110 times.... She's also accused of bumping one of her son's grades from 98 to 99 percent in February 2012."

    Something pathological here...
    ReadandShare
    • Power currupts

      She probably felt important having the knowledge contained in the emails, as unimportant as they may have actually been, the whole "knowldge is power" thing.
      William Farrel
  • Mom accessed school system 110 times to change kids' grades

    Mom hacker is 1337!
    Loverock Davidson-
  • Silly mom

    Wow, moms do the darndest things, don't they? My mom helped me get better grades too, though she was a bit more traditional. She helped me by staying up late to help with Math, helping me build my projects, and by instilling a real, solid work ethic. Silly me, but I appreciated THAT method much more than the cheating way.
    James Keenan
  • So I guess...

    So I guess that she saw War Games?
    benched42
  • Unethical but not illegal?

    A small change of your son's grade from 98 to 99 percentile may seem trivial but it can make a big difference in one's life. Some times what separate a medical school acceptance and denial may only be a grade difference.
    viny@...
    • So she's happy to show us she has no ethics.

      And that she has no problem going through life without them.
      William Farrel