A former Orange Country high school tutor has been arrested and charged for illegally hacking into teachers computers and changing students grades, the man was apprehended at LAX airport Monday afternoon.
29-year-old Timothy Lai, has been charged with one felony count of second degree commercial burglary and four felony counts of computer access and fraud for allegedly giving students devices to hack into teachers computers and change their grades.
Prosecutors allege that Lai, who worked as a private tutor, broke into the campus buildings and placed USB devices installed with keyloggers in teachers computers, allowing Lai to record keystrokes, steal passwords and later break into the schools network. On June 14 2013, they believe he was able to use the information obtained from the keylogger to access the school’s network and change the grades of three students.
Teachers noticed the grade change and reported it to campus administration spawning an investigation. Police began to investigate the report that a tutor had been involved.
In December of 2013, an unnamed student told Corona del Mar High School vice principal and authorities that Lai had asked the student to install a USB keylogger, according to a search warrant and affidavit.
The anonymous high-school student met with authorities at the Newport Beach Police Department, where authorities say the student called Lai. The affidavit said that during the recorded phone conversation, Lai identified himself and admitted to his involvement in the grade hacking scandal.
From there, law enforcement was granted a search warrant served at Lai’s home and vehicle, but according to prosecutors, Lai had fled the country before authorities could reach him.
The Orange Country District Attorney’s office is requesting Lai be held on a $200,000 bail. If convicted of his crimes, Lai may face up to five years and eight months in jail.
“We are grateful for the ongoing support and diligence from the Newport Beach PD,” Newport-Mesa Unified School District spokeswoman Laura Boss wrote in a statement sent to blog Corona del Mar Today. “The matter is now in their capable hands and the District will be referring all media inquiries to the Orange County District Attorney’s office. Corona del Mar High School has moved beyond this incident. It no longer involves the campus or school district and is a matter for the legal system.”
Since Lai’s hacking scandal, eleven students are believed to have been involved and have since been expelled, investigators were forced to review more than 52,000 grades.
How did Lai get these kids to go and install the hardware hacking tools? Administrators say Lai became not just a tutor or mentor but connected with the students as a friend. Students were taught not only how to install the software, but how to properly use the keylogging software to change their grades.
It is currently unknown how authorities were able to pinpoint Lai at the LAX airport and apprehend him.
Lai is currently awaiting sentencing and is scheduled to appear in court this Wednesday.