Mom Arrested For Hacking School Computers to Change Kids' Grades

ABC News
Mom Arrested For Hacking School Computers to Change Kids' Grades
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Mom Arrested For Hacking School Computers to Change Kids' Grades (ABC News)

A Pennsylvania mom faces six felony charges for allegedly hacking into her children's school computer to change their grades and read school officials' emails.

Catherine Venusto, 45, of New Tripoli, worked for the Northwestern Lehigh School District from 2008 through April 2011 and has at least two children in the district, according to the District Attorney's office.

She has been accused of changing her daughter's failing grade from an F to an M for "medical" in June 2010, and then changing her son's 98 to a 99 in February 2012, nearly a year after she quit her job as an administrative office secretary to work at another school district.

Venusto was arraigned on Wednesday afternoon in Lehigh County Magisterial Court on three counts of unlawful use of a computer and three counts of computer trespassing and altering data. All six charges are third degree felonies.

When ABCNews.com attempted to contact Venusto at her current job as an event coordinator at Lehigh University, a school employee said her employment ended Wednesday.

Venusto's lawyer, Thomas Carroll, declined to comment.

"I'm concerned on numerous levels," said Jennifer Holman, Northwestern Lehigh School District's assistant superintendent. "When we say systems, there were three difference systems violated…There were 10 different users that at some point had their email violated."

Holman told ABCNews.com that she first realized something was wrong when a teacher asked why Superintendent Mary Ann Wright was in that teacher's online grade book. Once Wright explained she was never in the grade book, administrators and state police began looking for whoever used Wright's username and password without permission.

State police discovered Venusto used Wright's username and password 110 times to access the district's online grading system, according to the District Attorney's office. Venusto also allegedly accessed nine other faculty members' email accounts without permission, and accessed the human resources "H-drive" to view "thousands of files associated with district policy, contract information, employee reports and personnel issues."

Wright released a statement on Wednesday in anticipation of Venusto's arraignment.

"We deeply regret this incident and that this unauthorized access occurred, and we sincerely regret any inconvenience this may cause," Wright wrote. "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."

Holman said the district's news release and email purposefully left Venusto's name out to protect her children, but the District Attorney's press release revealed the name.

"It's not their fault," Holman said of Venusto's children. "If the students continue to go to school here, which I assume they will, we need to do our best to support them in whatever way they need."

The court set bail at $30,000, but Venusto will not have to pay it unless she does not appear in court for her preliminary hearing on July 26, according a District Attorney's office spokeswoman. If convicted, Venusto could face fines, jail time, and restitution payments.

Venusto could face a maximum of 42 years in prison or a $90,000 fine, according to District Attorney's office spokeswoman Debbie Garlicki, who said the maximum penalty on each count is seven years or a $15,000.

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