An Indian-origin former university student, who hacked into his professors’ computers to change all his 10 grades from ‘F’ to ‘A’, has been granted one and a half years of probation and asked to apologise to his teachers, according to a media report. Varun H Sarja, 20, a former University of Kansas student, had pleaded guilty to two counts of identity theft and two counts of unlawful computer acts in May. Fourteen other felony charges were dropped as part of the plea deal. “As the prosecutor and his defense attorney had requested in a plea agreement, Sarja of Olathe received a year and a half probation, with an underlying 18-month prison sentence that he could be ordered to serve should he fail at probation,” The Lawrence Journal-World reported yesterday.
Sarja, who has no prior criminal record, agreed to the terms of his probation, including that he would apologise directly to those affected by writing letters to the university and the professors involved, the report said. Sarja was a freshman studying engineering at varsity during the 2016-17 school year, when he successfully used a keystroke logger to steal instructors’ confidential login information, hacked into multiple campus computers and change F’s to A’s.
A keylogger is a computer programme that records every keystroke made by a computer user, especially in order to gain fraudulent access to passwords and other confidential information. An academic adviser noticed in spring 2017 that Sarja — who was on academic probation at that time — had an A in math and began checking into the situation along with the math professor.
An ensuing investigation by Kansas University police revealed that he had changed almost all of his 10 grades that year, starting in December, and stole teachers’ login credentials to do it. Sarja told detectives he loved engineering, wanted to be successful and was scared to tell his parents he had failed classes.
The university held a hearing to remove Sarja from the varsity in the summer of 2017. The Journal-World first reported the cybersecurity breach in October 2017 after details were shared at a KU School of Engineering Senate meeting, but the involved student was not named. The criminal charges were filed against Sarja in November 2017.