A Saudi student hacked into his university's system to change his classmates' grades and is now facing legal trouble in the kingdom.
This week, the country's public prosecution recommended the young man receives a four-year jail sentence and a 3-million Saudi riyal fine ($799,804). The defendant, who studies at the King Faisal University in Hofuf, is said to have upgraded 19 students' scores to 199 points following successful hacking attempts.
His scheme was uncovered by university officials after they noticed changes in student data saved on the educational institution's internal computer system. This in turn led the college to set up a committee tasked with investigating the breaches. The university's I.T. department also looked into the matter and released a report confirming that 19 students had their grades changed after hacks occurred.
During his interrogation, the defendant said he hacked into accounts to help students out and had no intention of causing any harm.
Four students who had their grades altered were interrogated by the university including one who confirmed that the hacker had actually reached out to her.
The young woman said the defendant sent her a message via Snapchat saying he could change her grades in several courses on condition she provides him with her student ID and password. He later contacted her to say he had successfully changed her scores.
Another interrogated student said the hacker accessed his account and changed his grades without his knowledge.
The defendant admitted he was able to access the college's system from a location close to the campus' Gate (4). He then connected to the building's Wi-Fi and accessed student data using a staff member's ID and password.
The man added that he destroyed the laptop he used to hack into all accounts by setting it on fire and disposing of it near a highway in Al Hofuf region.
The case sparked a social media meltdown
Saudi tweeps were left divided over news of the man's possible sentencing, with many deeming the proposed punishment "way too harsh."
"This punishment is a bit too much but he didn't benefit these students, he used his skill to exploit them," one Twitter user commented, though no information was released on whether the hacker charged the students for his service.
Others commended the student's hacking skills and thought they should be redirected and used in more positive ventures. Opposition criticized this rhetoric, with a few arguing that since he committed a crime, he should be punished.
Hacking is a criminal offense under Saudi Arabia's cybercrime laws
The kingdom outranks all other Arab countries in terms of "commitment to cybersecurity" and implements very strict laws when it comes to violations.
The legislation criminalizes unauthorized access to systems and defines the act as "the deliberate, unauthorized access by any person to computers, websites, information systems, or computer networks."
The defendant is set to be charged under Article 5 of the law.
This clause states that any person "causing the information network to halt or breakdown, or destroying, deleting, leaking or altering existing or stored programs or data" is to be sentenced to jail for a period "not exceeding four years and a fine not exceeding three million riyals or to either punishment."