published Saturday, November 19th, 2011

Walker County freshman charged in school website hacking

A ninth-grade LaFayette High School student caused all Walker County School websites to be shut down since the first day of classes in September after he posted porn and a graphic video to several sites, officials said.

The 15-year-old Georgia teen also is being held responsible for posting a lewd, altered profile of LaFayette High School Principal Mike Culberson to the school’s website at the same time, said Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson.

But authorities weren’t able to link the crime to the teen until recently, and he was arrested this week on a felony charge of computer trespassing, Wilson said. The teen has been questioned and released to his parents, the sheriff said.

Since the school server was shut down, officials have spent more than $10,000 on labor and other factors, and technical personal have worked 2,000 hours to rebuild the websites, said Walker County Schools spokeswoman Elaine Womack.

When the compromised websites were discovered, the entire school server was shut down, and technical personal have switched providers and been working on a more secure site since that time, Womack said.

Since the site has been down, parents and students have not been able to access the online information on grades, assignments and tests, she said.

“This was not a prank,” Womack said. “We would consider something humorous as a prank. This was much more. [It was] deliberate and malicious and extremely detrimental to other users.”

Police believe the LaFayette High teen — whose name isn’t being released because he is a juvenile — first hacked into the LaFayette High School site on Aug. 31, posting pornography and the principal’s profile, Wilson said. The next day, on the first day of classes, he again hacked the system and posted lewd content to the school system’s main website, Wilson said.

Both times he used a home computer, Wilson said.

“It’s not something the average computer person could do,” Wilson said. “It took some skill.”

After weeks of investigation, authorities were able to trace the address back to the teen’s computer, Wilson said.

A limited school district website was restored several weeks ago, but all the school sites will not be functioning until Dec. 1, Womack said. More monitoring and security checks have been put into place to prevent a similar occurrence in the future, she said.

The student’s criminal case will be heard in Walker County Juvenile Court, Wilson said. If convicted, the teen could serve detention and be placed on probation.

He also has been suspended from school, and officials will likely hold a formal hearing to decide whether he will be suspended for a certain period or expelled, Womack said.

“The superintendent is taking this very seriously with the goal of not compromising our stakeholders, especially children, with inappropriate material,” she said in an email.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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