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School leaders remain tight-lipped over student accused of hacking

May 14, 2019 11:13 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) -- Leaders in the Gates Chili school system remained tight-lipped Tuesday over the arrest of a student accused of hacking into the district's computer system.

Meanwhile, friends of 17-year-old Ajay Bhattacharyya asked that he be treated with understanding.

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"He's a high school student. He's having his whole life ruined by this one action," declared 17-year-old Sedrick Thomas, a classmate who nonetheless acknowledged the severity of the accusations. 

"I'm not saying what was right, what was wrong. But definitely, you should take some accountability on their end and not just send someone to prison," he said.

Thomas came to the district's school board meeting Tuesday night to speak on behalf of Bhattacharyya.

The teen was arraigned Friday on multiple felony charges including computer trespass, identity theft and falsifying business records. Court documents said he used the credentials of former Superintendent Kimberle Ward to hack into the district's computer system. 

During Tuesday's meeting, Rochester City School District Board Vice President Andrea Hinchey-Unison refused to comment beyond referring any inquiries to a statement on the school's website released Friday.

The statement said nothing about Gates Chili's security protocols or what may have gone wrong. It also said no private information was copied and Social Security numbers weren't accessed.

Court documents say the 17-year-old's hack accessed disciplinary records for 330 students, a roster report which would have shown where students were during the school day, software that could have viewed all the district's security cameras, and personal information on 1,300 students including their class ranks, grade point averages, Social Security numbers, addresses and emergency contacts.

"He didn't mean any harm by it whatsoever," said Connor Weihoneig, who identified himself as a friend of Bhattacharyya."It was just the fact of being able to do it, I believe."

He and other classmates described the young suspect as an outstanding student, an athlete, and a Boy Scout on his way to Eagle Scout whose alleged prank may have done the school district a favor.

"A bright intelligent student found a flaw before a malicious hacker got to it," Thomas told the board during public comments at the meeting. "Now, the IT department and Gates use Ajay as a scapegoat to cover up their own mistakes in judgment by handing him over to the DA, instead of handling it professionally internally."

The district's statement says there was no manipulation or attempted manipulation of any information in the computer system and that the district has "taken measures to prevent any further unauthorized access."

Credits

Charles Molineaux

Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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