Asean scholarship holder jailed for altering exam grades

An Asean scholarship holder at Singapore Management University (SMU) hacked into his professor's computer account and changed his own examination grades as well as those of others.

Tran Gia Hung, 22, a first-year business management student, altered his final examination mark from D+ to B, and his final adjusted grade from B to A-. He also raised grades for seven students and lowered them for two others.

The Vietnamese student denied accessing Dr Rajah Kumar's account and committing the offences when he was interviewed by SMU on April 28 last year, and claimed he had been framed.

The court heard that Hung managed to get Dr Kumar's password by sitting in the second row in class and watching the professor typing very slowly, enabling him to guess the keystrokes.

Hung was jailed for 16 weeks yesterday after admitting to 10 charges under the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act, and one under the Penal Code for causing evidence of him accessing the computer server of SMU to be erased from his laptop.

There were 28 other charges considered during sentencing.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Nicholas Khoo said Dr Kumar uploaded his students' grades for two modules into SMU's e-Learn system on April 25 last year.

While at home that evening, he noticed a few differences to the grades he had uploaded. He reported the matter to SMU, and the grades for the modules were held back.

When Hung was confronted three days later, he denied accessing Dr Kumar's account despite SMU's investigation that traced the illegal log-ins to his MacBook computer.

He claimed he had been framed, and was given a chance to explain by noon the next day.

But that evening, he e-mailed SMU reiterating his denial and again stated he had been framed. Hung also referred to a previous hacking case involving SMU postgraduate student Georgy Kotsaga, in which the Russian student used a keylogger to access professors' accounts to delete his exam scripts and those of 18 classmates as he feared he had done poorly in the test.

The next day, 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 investigations showed that there were seven unauthorised log-ins to Dr Kumar's computer over three days in March last year. These were all traced to Hung, who was caught on closed-circuit television footage using the MacBook during the illegal log-ins.

On April 25 last year, Hung was at home when he unlawfully accessed Dr Kumar's account and changed the grades. Investigations further showed that 30 unauthorised amendments were made to 10 students' grades across two modules.

Hung's lawyer, Mr Amarjit Singh, told District Judge Soh Tze Bian that his client committed the computer offences in "sheer desperation" as he was warned that he would lose his scholarship.

DPP Khoo had sought at least four months in jail as there were several aggravating factors that rendered him more culpable than Kotsaga, who was jailed for two months last year.

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

After Kotsaga's conviction, SMU said it was beefing up IT security.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2017, with the headline 'Asean scholarship holder jailed for altering exam grades'. Print Edition | Subscribe