Two Charged with Hacking PeopleSoft to Fix Grades

Two California men are facing 20 years in prison on charges they hacked into a California state university's PeopleSoft system to change their grades.

In an October 25 grand jury indictment, John Escalera, 29, and Gustavo Razo, 28, were charged with using Escalera's position within California State University, Fresno's IT help desk center to gain access to the university's grades database.

The men could face 20 years in prison and US$250,000 in fines if convicted of the eleven counts on the indictment, which includes charges of unauthorized computer access, identity theft, conspiracy and wire fraud.

Though they are charged with identity theft, a university spokeswoman could not immediately say whether or not sensitive information such as social security numbers had been compromised during the crime.

According to the indictment, Escalera used "computer hacking techniques" to acquire the password of a supervisor and then used this account to get access to usernames and passwords used by the university's Web-based PeopleSoft academic record system, hosted at a Unisys data center in Salt Lake City, Utah. PeopleSoft products are sold by Oracle.

Escalera allegedly obtained user name and passwords for the university's registrar, extension academic program registrar, academic records coordinator and others, and used these passwords to bump up his own grades as well as those of his friend, Razo, who paid cash for the grade change.

The grades were changed several times between January and June of 2004, the indictment states.

The university had recently updated to PeopleSoft from a legacy system known as the Student Information Management System/Relational (SIMS/R) database, and IT staff finally caught wind of the problem during a routine audit designed to check the accuracy of the conversion.

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