U international student charged with computer hacking

FBI and U police arrested U student You Li on Feb. 17 on a charge of hacking into his professor’s computer to change a grade in a math class.

Li, a 21-year-old Chinese citizen majoring in computer science, appeared in federal court Feb. 17-the same day a federal grand jury indicted Li on two counts.

He is charged with accessing a protected computer in attempted furtherance of fraud and obtaining information from a protected computer.

Li declined to comment on anything involving the indictment or charges but did say, “I may do stupid things, but I’m not a bad person, and I hope this will not affect my study here (at the U).”

Melodie Rydalch, U.S. Attorney’s spokeswoman, said Li was not detained and was released from custody on certain conditions including surrendering his passport.

She also said Li pled not guilty in the initial court case and would appear before district court Judge Paul Cassell on April 24 for a two-day trial.

If convicted of the two charges, Li would face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Rydalch said the maximum penalty would likely not be given if Li is convicted.

“The judge would take into account the serious nature of the crime, previous convictions, monetary loss and victim issues when sentencing,” she said.

According to the indictment, in Oct. 2004, Li used a hacking tool to decrypt an encrypted password on the U math department’s system belonging to one of Li’s professors.

Then in December, Li used the password information to access the professor’s account multiple times.

It is also alleged that Li accessed the professor’s Yahoo.com e-mail account, banking information, other passwords to Web sites and a math department grading system.

Prosecutors believe Li attempted to change one or more of his grades in the professor’s class but was not successful because the file changed was a backup kept by the professor.

The indictment also alleges that Li wrote and installed a program on the professor’s computer account that would falsely notify the professor that he needed to enter a user ID number.

Although Li is a Chinese national, he will be treated as a U.S. citizen throughout the investigation and trial, said FBI spokesman Robert Wright.

“He will be afforded the rights and hearings any other person would be given,” he said. “Although, because he is a Chinese nationalist, there is the possibility of him being deported if he is convicted.”

Coralie Alder, U spokeswoman, said the U police have turned the investigation over to the FBI. The university has not been asked for any help or assistance.

“It is unfortunate that we have a student in this situation,” she said. “But if need be, we will continue to cooperate fully with them and help them in any way possible to ensure these things don’t happen.”