updated 1/31/2012 4:14:48 PM ET 2012-01-31T21:14:48

Three Southern California high schoolers are facing a punishment much more severe than detention for allegedly hacking into their schools' network, changing their grades and selling test answers to classmates.

The teens, juniors at Palos Verdes High School, are accused of breaking into the school and placing keyloggers, tiny skimming devices used to track and record keys struck on a keyboard, into the USB ports on four teachers' computers, The Daily Breeze reported. The suspects were taken into custody on suspicion of burglary Jan. 26.

Using a master key accessed after picking the lock to a janitor's closet, the suspects broke into the school late at night to retrieve the keyloggers, from which they could harvest the teachers' user names and passwords, which they then used to log in to the school's grading system. Trying to remain off the radar, the teens allegedly made only minor changes to test scores to make their grades average 90.

"They didn't want to make it real apparent something was going on," Palos Verdes Estates Police Sergeant Steve Barber told The Daily Breeze. "They knew exactly what to do with the computers … All their grades magically came out to 90, the lowest total for an A."

Their late-night escapades inside the high school also served another deviant purpose. The teens allegedly broke into the school as many as 20 times to steal copies of tests from teachers' desks. The students sold the answers to the stolen tests to classmates, Barber told The Daily Breeze. Up to 12 students might be implicated for participating or benefiting from the teens' crimes.

The scandal has rattled the Los Angeles-area school, according to Principal Nick Stephany. He told The Daily Breeze none of the alleged suspects had ever gotten into trouble. "They were bright kids," he said. "They were in AP and honors classes."

He added, "These kids would have been going to a very good college without any academic dishonesty. That's the sad part about it."

At the time they were caught, school staff found keyloggers on three other teachers' computers, a sign the group was expanding its scam.

© 2012 SecurityNewsDaily. All rights reserved


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