Asean Scholar at SMU jailed 16 weeks for hacking into professor's computer and changing grades

SINGAPORE - An Asean scholarship holder at Singapore Management University (SMU) hacked into his professor's account and made changes to his own grades as well as that of other students.

Vietnamese Tran Gia Hung, 22, a first-year business management student, changed his "Final Examination'' grade from D+ to B, and his "Final Adjusted Grade'' from B to A-. He also downgraded the marks of other students.

After he was found out on April 28, 2016, he adamantly denied accessing Dr Rajah Kumar's account and committing the offences. He stated that he had been framed.

The court heard that he managed to get Dr Kumar's password through trial and error. He would sit at the second row in class and could see the victim type his password very slowly, enabling him to guess his keystrokes.

On Wednesday (Nov 8), Hung, who faced 39 charges, was jailed for 16 weeks after he admitted to 10 charges under the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act, and one of intentionally obstructing the course of justice by causing evidence of his accessing of the computer server of SMU to be erased from his laptop.

The court heard that on April 25, 2016, Dr Kumar uploaded his students' grades for two modules - Technology and World Change, which Hung was a student of, and Business Government and Society - into the e-Learn system. This system provides support to staff and students for their academic requirements.

That evening, the professor was about to release the grades when he suddenly noticed that there were a few differences to the grades he had uploaded earlier.

He reported the matter to SMU and the grades were held back.

Through its internal investigation, the university discovered that Hung was behind the numerous log-ins and attempted log-ins into Dr Kumar's e-Learn accoun.

tDuring an interview on April 28, Hung denied accessing the victim's account. He was given a chance and told to think about it and explain by noon the next day.

That evening, however, he sent an e-mail to SMU to again deny committing the offences. He again stated that he was framed.

On April 29, 2016, Hung went to Sim Lim Square to find an IT shop to erase the data on his MacBook.

SMU lodged a police report on May 4 the same year.

DPP Khoo said police investigation revealed that there were seven unauthorised log-ins to the victim's e-Learn account over three days in March 2016.

Investigations also showed Hung made another unauthorised log-in from his home on April 25, during which students' grades were amended.

After his arrest on Aug 12 last year, Hung again denied the offences. He later blamed his four co-tenants and another person for committing the offences.

Hung, said the DPP, accessed the victim's e-Learn account to get projects and reports submitted by past year students so that he could use it to do better in his assignments.

Hung's lawyer Amarjit Singh urged District Judge Soh Tze Bian to consider that his client did what he did "in sheer desperation" as he was warned that he would lose his scholarship if he did not buck up.

DPP Khoo had sought at least four months' jail as there were several aggravating factors which rendered him more culpable than Russian Georgy Kotsaga, then an SMU student, who was given two months for computer misuse last year.

He said the offences committed by Hung were carefully planned, difficult to detect and that he was motivated by personal benefit. He added that Hung was a "belligerent, unremorseful and uncooperative individual''.