A Rhinelander, Wis., high school student has been sentenced to 90 days in jail for sabotaging his school district’s computer network with a virus.

Outdated technology contributed to the destruction of the district’s network, which cost $20,000 to repair, and the incident has many educators concerned about network security and how to stay technologically ahead of student saboteurs.

Adam J. Kope, 17, pleaded no contest to six misdemeanor counts of modifying computer data. A felony count of willfully destroying data was dropped in return for the no-contest plea to the misdemeanors.

According to a report from the Oneida County Sheriff’s Department, Kope admitted corrupting school computers with a disk containing 89 viruses. Although the district’s server was running a virus protection software, one of the viruses managed to get through to infect the system. Kope had downloaded the viruses from a site on the internet.

Andrea Deau, the district’s technology coordinator, said the virus infected older machines running on Windows 3.1 but spared the Windows 95 machines, which had a second layer of protection. Still, about 350 of the district’s 600 computers were disabled.

Final exams disrupted

The network was down for two days while Deau and her technology staff worked to repair the damage. Because the attack came at the end of the semester, students taking computer classes were not able to take their final exams. The district was forced to release grades much later than planned.

All told, it took 45 days and $20,000 to clean out and reprogram the infected computers. Labor costs made up the bulk of the expense.

Kope was ordered to pay the school the $20,000 clean-up cost and serve 300 hours of community service. He was expelled from school and placed on three years’ probation. During his probation he must obtain the equivalent of a high school diploma. Judge Mark Mangerson sentenced Kope on May 7.

“I hope that any other kid in a similar situation gets the message that paying back $20,000 and 90 days in jail is just not worth it,” Oneida County Assistant District Attorney Steve Michlig said.

Deau said she was pleased with the sentence, because she said it might deter others from committing similar acts. “Students have to realize that this is not a game–it affects a lot of people,” she said.

How to protect your network

For Deau, what’s disturbing about the attack is that her district’s network was supposed to be protected from computer viruses.

“You’re never going to be able to protect yourself 100 percent,” she said. “As these kids get more savvy, they’re going to test their skills.” New viruses are being written all the time, she added.

What you can do, experts say, is make sure you have at least two levels of anti-virus scanning protection, one on the desktop and one on the server. Each level should use a different type of software–that way, if a virus escapes the detection of one system, it still has a chance of being detected by the other.

Deau said her district bought a second type of software to help clean the infected computers. Now all computers have a second layer of protection installed.

But as the Rhinelander incident proves, you can’t rely completely on technology.

“Probably the most important protection is common sense and supervision of student users,” said Bob Moore, director of information and technology for the Blue Valley School District in Kansas. “Layers of security features are critical, but it still comes down to the user.”

Deau agrees. She recommends that teachers be taught what to look for to make sure students are using computers appropriately. For example, are they working in the application they’re supposed to be?

“Any application or screen–like the black DOS screen if your district runs Windows–that you’re not used to seeing may be a sign that a student is misusing the system,” Deau said.

International Computer Security Association (ICSA) Anti-Virus Lab

Sandrin Anti-Virus Connection Expressway