The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office has charged Domanik Green, an eighth-grader at Paul R. Smith Middle School, with an offense against a computer system and unauthorized access, a felony. Sheriff Chris Nocco said Thursday that Green logged onto the school’s network on March 31 using an administrative-level password without permission. He then changed the background image on a teacher’s computer to one showing two men kissing.
Seemingly everyone at every level of government wants to talk about cybersecurity. Most of what’s discussed is delivered in the breathless cadence of a lifetime paranoiac. (Won’t someone think of the poor multimillion-dollar studios?!!?) This school is one level of government. So is the sheriff’s office. Both felt the 14-year-old’s actions were severe enough to warrant felony charges. Why? Because somebody hacked something. If you can even call it “hacking…”
Green had previously received a three-day suspension for accessing the system inappropriately. Other students also got in trouble at the time, he said. It was a well-known trick, Green said, because the password was easy to remember: a teacher’s last name. He said he discovered it by watching the teacher type it in.
The teen changed a computer’s wallpaper and was able to do so because the most basic of security precautions weren’t taken. Multiple students took advantage of this lax security to access computers with webcams so they could chat “face-to-face” while utilizing the school’s network.
The school got all bent out of shape because some of the computers accessed contained encrypted test questions. It turned the student over to law enforcement because it deemed his “breach” of its system too “serious” to be handled by just a 10-day suspension. It had him arrested because of things he could have done, rather than the thing he actually did.
One of the computers Green, 14, accessed also had encrypted 2014 FCAT questions stored on it, though the sheriff and Pasco County School District officials said Green did not view or tamper with those files.
And yet, Sheriff Chris Nocco is still looking to prosecute a 14-year-old for attempting to annoy one of his teachers. Here’s the student’s description of what he did.
“So I logged out of that computer [because that computer didn’t have a webcam] and logged into a different one and I logged into a teacher’s computer who I didn’t like and tried putting inappropriate pictures onto his computer to annoy him,” Green said.
Here’s Sheriff Nocco’s statement:
“Even though some might say this is just a teenage prank, who knows what this teenager might have done,” Nocco said.
Well… you do know what “he might have done,” Sheriff Nocco. And yet, your response to this situation is to hand out felony charges to a teen for something he might have done? Is that the way law enforcement is really supposed to work? [The FBI has issued the following statement: “That’s the way it works for us. Almost exclusively.”]
He told you exactly what he did and why he did it. Your own investigative efforts confirmed he never accessed the oh-so-untouchable FCAT questions. Incredibly, Sheriff Nocco wants to not only punish this student for something he might have done, but any other teens who might do stuff.
The sheriff said Green’s case should be a warning to other students: “If information comes back to us and we get evidence (that other kids have done it), they’re going to face the same consequences,” Nocco said.
Shorter Nocco: I will arrest and charge teens with felonies for annoying educators and/or exposing their inability to make even the most minimal effort to keep their computers secure. If I lived in this county, I’d be very concerned that law enforcement officials are keen on the idea of arresting and prosecuting teens for stuff they didn’t do (access test questions) or things they might have done (TBD as needed for maximum damage to teens’ futures).