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Reid Ellison wasn’t satisfied with his 4.0 grade point average,
so he hacked into the Anzar High School computer system and changed
– to 1.8.
Reid Ellison wasn’t satisfied with his 4.0 grade point average, so he hacked into the Anzar High School computer system and changed it – to 1.8.

Ellison, a junior at Anzar, thought it would be a cool idea to find the digital back roads into the school’s computer system for his graduation exhibition, an in-depth report required to graduate from the San Juan Bautista high school.

So with permission from school administrators he hacked his way in and left a “footprint” – proof of his work – by reducing his grade point average from an A to a C-minus.

“It’s kind of like the opposite of what most people would do, so I just figured I’d leave a footprint or signature,” Ellison said.

The project has caught the attention of national media. CNN’s Connie Chung was scheduled to interview Ellison Wednesday on a live satellite feed, but the broadcast was canceled because CNN couldn’t get a remote satellite truck to San Juan Bautista.

Cable network Tech TV interviewed Ellison yesterday for a television special that’s expected to run Monday at 8:30 p.m. Tech TV has a package sharing agreement with ABC, so chances are the story will also be aired on an ABC news program such as “Good Morning America.”

“It was a little bit exciting. It was not something that I expected,” Ellison said before his TV interview.

Hacking into the school’s system was the easiest part of the project, Ellison said. With permission from school staff, it took Ellison “a fifth of a second” to find the password and 15 minutes to lower his grades.

He had an advantage. Ellison had previously worked with Anzar administrators and knew the main secretary’s name and her favorite baseball team, and put them into a program that matched a dictionary against the password.

He got the password on the first try: “Silvia,” the secretary’s name. It has since been changed.

The toughest part of the exhibition, Ellison said, was the written report – an account of the history of hacking and his experience getting into Anzar’s computers. It combined three elements – history, science and math.

Anzar requires its students to present six exhibitions before they can graduate. Exhibitions must have written and oral components and provide the students with an in-depth educational experience, Anzar Site Manager Wayne Norton said.

“There are three things (about the exhibitions),” he said. “It helps them learn how to think, it helps them apply learning to real-world situations that they care about and it guarantees every kid that graduates from school has a significant intellectual experience.”

Last week, three exhibition judges gave Ellison a perfect score for his report and presentation. They were also sure to bring his grades back up to a well-earned 4.0 grade point average, Norton said.

The ease with which Ellison got into the school’s system has made school administrators aware of how easily somebody could hack into the system – someone with a different motive than Ellison’s.

“I suspected that any computer has a weakness and it’s just a matter of time before someone figures it out,” Norton said. “One thing it did was to show us that we do need to think about the worst that can happen. With somebody with less moral fiber than Reid, then it’s an issue.”

A hacker can do much more damage than a computer virus, Ellison said. A hacker can destroy an entire computer system without the user’s knowledge while a virus can be avoided or eliminated.

Ellison compiled a list of precautionary measures Anzar can use to increase the security of its computer system. The school is looking into further security measures, Norton said.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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