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Son hacked into the school system- should he accept a caution?

(179 Posts)
Animavillis Sat 01-Feb-14 00:05:55

Hi, I'm desperately looking for some advise about my son's situation. He hacked into the school computer system and changed a desktop picture. In return, the school reported him to the police. After 3 months, the police decided to give him a conditional caution. Both the police, YOT and the firm which provided a duty solicitor during the police interview are nagging me to sign it. I am hesitant though because this will be on my son's record forever and he didn't do any damage to the school. His intention was to let them know that the system was insecure and easily accessible. What is going to happen if he doesn't sign it?

PigletJohn Wed 05-Feb-14 17:02:23

in the old days, I actually think the youngster would have been expelled, and/or caned, and/or sent to Borstal, depending on the social standing of the school and the parents.

ivykaty44 Wed 05-Feb-14 16:48:57

But they would now due to data protection laws if the DC broke into filing cabinets and looked through private data as it is a breach. It would also look at the school and what measures they had in place to protect the data

Data protection laws are fairly new as are computers

PigletJohn Wed 05-Feb-14 09:42:15

Before computers, data would have been kept in notebooks, cupboards and filing cabinets.

If a youngster forced the lock on the school secretary's office, and broke into the filing cabinet to look at the "who's got nits" or "whose dad is in prison for sexual abuse" folders, and scrawled funny faces or willies on the papers, maybe in the old days the police would not have been involved.

prh47bridge Wed 05-Feb-14 09:32:27

If the school computers have so much sensitive information on them... then they shouldn't have let the kids play with them

The school will not allow pupils to play with computers with sensitive information on them. However, they will have sensitive information on some computers which will be on the same network as those used by pupils. There will be security in place to prevent pupils accessing this information. The OP's comments and fact the police are involved in this case and want to caution the pupil suggests that he hacked his way past this security.

Hulababy Wed 05-Feb-14 07:42:50

Do you serious think schools don't need to have sensitive information stored on hem?

Names, addresses, medical details, progress records ... Could go on!

Are you really so badly clued up as to what information systems are and how they are used!?!

Hulababy Wed 05-Feb-14 07:40:32

No school child allowed access to the Internet? Seriously GABA?!

How ridiculous! How about we allow gradual access from very young teaching safe sensible use from the start? Then we will have competent and confident online users!

You do know that many school applications and activities are online these days yes?

gaba Wed 05-Feb-14 07:28:54

"In which case your PC should be removed from you, as it's possible you could do all sorts of damage. And not just from the ignorance of the operator. You've essentially just suggested that no school child ever be allowed to access the internet."

The internet and computers are scary to many of the older generation, but it ia only a problem when you connect the wrong things to it, like a computer with sensitive information or a Trident submarine.

As for the last point, I'd say that was spot on.

PatriciaHolm Wed 05-Feb-14 00:12:31

The computer you are on right now Gaba could, in the right hands, be used to hack into a large amount of computer systems. You've heard of the internet, right? Being connected to the web means there is the possibility for your PC to hack into a number of systems, and for many people to hack into your PC.
In which case your PC should be removed from you, as it's possible you could do all sorts of damage. And not just from the ignorance of the operator. You've essentially just suggested that no school child ever be allowed to access the internet.

Anyway. OP is off doing something far more interesting, which would suggest the original scenario might just be a pile of bollocks anyway....

gaba Tue 04-Feb-14 23:32:29

The only way a computer could have been misused in a way that required police involvement, is if he had hit another kid with it.

If the school computers have so much sensitive information on them, or they can be used to launch missiles or whatever, then they shouldn't have let the kids play with them.

What next, give them guns and wonder why someone gets shot?

prh47bridge Tue 04-Feb-14 23:17:56

Those kind of sentences are for ADULT sophicated hackers who dileberately wreck systems or commit internet fraud

No, those are the maximum sentences for hackers of any age (provided they are over the age of criminal responsibility) who gain unauthorised access to computer material. If they deliberately wreck systems or commit internet fraud the maximum penalties are considerably higher. And I did point out that it is very rare for someone to receive the maximum sentence. To receive the maximum there would need to be aggravating factors such as accessing sensitive and/or confidential information or causing significant distress.

Yes, this child (who I assume is under 18) has POSSIBLY committed an offense

No possibly about it. According to the OP he has gained unauthorised access to the school's computer system. That is an offense under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 s1.

This is a petty crime in the big scheme of life

You need to convince politicians of that. The fact they significantly increased the maximum penalties in the Computer Misuse Act suggests that they don't agree with you.

BoneyBackJefferson Tue 04-Feb-14 18:24:46


I'm curious to find out what skeletons gaba's fictious teacher has.,

AgaPanthers Tue 04-Feb-14 18:18:50

Why is this thread up to 167 messages when OP can't be bothered to add more info?

Hulababy Tue 04-Feb-14 18:08:15

In the past I have worked as a teacher in secondary schools for several years, including one in special measures. Behaviour was terrible. Physical assualts on other pupils and staff were not rare. I, myself, was physical hurt - deliberately - when a child hit my heavily pregnant stomach with a chair.

I have also worked in a male prison housing up to ct A and restricted Young ffenders and cat C adult offenders - including some very violent and aggressive men, from aged 17y upwards - in for all manner of crimes inc murder, rape, peadophilia, etc.

I am not some sheltered middle-class hidden way from real life adult. However, I still believe that if this child ha committed a crime, as well as a breach f trust, then he should be dealt with appropriately. Without the OP being here to tell us ore regarding the son's age, what he actually did and didn't do, ow he went about it, if it is a first offence, etc we don't really know what is appropriate. If the school feel that reporting it to the police i appropriate then chances re it is more than loggig in and changing a n image via the control panel - therefore, he may well have committed a known crime, deliberately and should therefore be accountable - and face up tp the consequences of his chosen actions.

PatriciaHolm Tue 04-Feb-14 17:21:37

We still have absolutely no idea what actually happened, or how old the child was. Until the OP deigns to return (or the article they are writing appears in The Daily Mail...) all else is speculation.

ReallyTired Tue 04-Feb-14 17:18:03

"Unauthorised access to computer material carries a maximum sentence of 12 months or a fine of up to £5,000 assuming the case is heard by magistrates - higher penalties apply in the Crown Court."

Those kind of sentences are for ADULT sophicated hackers who dileberately wreck systems or commit internet fraud. I think the OP son is a silly teenage boy rather than a mastermind criminal. Giving a child a fine only punishes the parents.

Yes, this child (who I assume is under 18) has POSSIBLY committed an offense. I feel saddened that this offense has been dealt with by the criminal justice system rather than a different way. Our age of criminal responsiblity is incredibly low compared with the rest of the world. In many countries a child who hacked a major computer system and actually behaved in a malicous way would not be facing criminal proceedings as if they were an adult. In fact there are countries which would treat child who has commited murder less harshly.

If a child has supportive parents then surely there are better ways of getting him on the straight and narrow than the criminal justice system. A child simply does not the mental capacity of an adult to understand consequences of their actions.

If my child was in this mess I would get the best legal advice possible from a solitor who specialises in Computer law and representing CHILDREN.

This is a petty crime in the big scheme of life. Lets keep it in proportion. Most of us made silly mistakes of one sort or another. I hope a judge would be more understanding than some people on this thread.

prh47bridge Tue 04-Feb-14 13:05:48

I think prh47bridge would be shocked at some of the behaviour that a nice leafy comprehensive has to deal with

Believe me I wouldn't. I've seen it myself.

As PigletJohn says, we only have minimal details for this case. All we know for sure is that the school viewed it as sufficiently serious to refer it to the police, who in turn think it is worthy of a caution.

Would a court of law really impose a tougher sentence?

Unauthorised access to computer material carries a maximum sentence of 12 months or a fine of up to £5,000 assuming the case is heard by magistrates - higher penalties apply in the Crown Court. Sentences are rarely that high. If appropriate the courts could go for a lesser punishment such as an ASBO. With the limited details available it is impossible to guess what level the courts would choose.

You mention criminal damage. For comparison, the maximum penalty for criminal damage of the kind you mention is a fine of £1,000. For a first offence the starting point is a fine of £500. You may not agree but the law regards the son's actions as more serious than low level criminal damage such as scribbling in a textbook.

tiggytape Tue 04-Feb-14 11:45:10

Schools' hands are tied over many such issues. Where we live, a chair throwing incident resulting in injury would automatically be a police matter as would hacking school computer files. Many schools and LAs have written policies on behaviour and safety and specify at what point the police will be called (also small amounts of drugs, any weapon etc)

For other things, fixed term exclusions can be used but are limited because they are heavily regulated and highly discouraged. They are never normally last longer than 5 days and cannot exceed 45 days over one whole year. Litter picking one Saturday morning would involve parental cooperation that the school cannot enforce easily let alone 3 months worth of it!

OP says her DS knew what he was doing was wrong and computer rules are something that are endlessly emphasised at school - I expect more children know the laws on hacking than adults in fact. Schools may be in loco parentis but that is for all their pupils not just one. They cannot ignore personal files being hacked (or children being assaulted or other serious incidents) just so that one child doesn't end up in trouble because of the way they have chosen to behave. They are responsible for the safety of every child not the choices of just one.

PigletJohn Tue 04-Feb-14 11:37:30


Sadly none of us know quite what he did or what the circumstances were.

Quite likely not "every misdermeanour " does have to be to be dealt with by the police

ReallyTired Tue 04-Feb-14 11:23:55

Does every misdermeanour by a school child really have to be dealth with by the police. There is no doult that TECHNICALLY this boy commited a crime, but doodling on textbooks is in theory criminal damage and so is assault. I think prh47bridge would be shocked at some of the behaviour that a nice leafy comprehensive has to deal with. (A child in ds' class recently threw a chair across a classroom in a teenage tantrum. Thankfully no one was hurt. The child was suspended but there was no police involvment as far as I know.)

I feel the combination of a very young age for criminal responsiblity and schools adicating responsiblity for sorting unacceptable behaviour unnecessarily criminalises young people. Schools are in loco parentis and parents don't go down the police station everytime their breaks the law. (Ds aged 12 ate all the biscuits without permission! Should I report him to the police?) Marking out a child as a criminal at an early age does not decrease their chances of re offending.

Schools do have the power to punish children without having to restort to the courts. I feel that suspending a child for a period of two weeks would have sufficently emphasised the seriousness of hacking the school network. Ds's school punishes children by making them pick up litter at 8am on a Saturday morning as a form of community work without resorting to the courts. Just imagine the affect of a two week suspension followed by 3 months of 8am saturday morning detentions picking up litter in all weathers. Would a court of law really impose a tougher sentence?

Young people make mistakes and its wrong to scar them for life by giving them formal cautions or a criminal record.

Presumably, Gaba if I committed the 'made-up' crime of hacking, and hacked into your bank's servers, you wouldn't report it to the police?

As others have said, the boy committed a crime - and could have had access to highly sensitive information - SEN files, medical records etc - and given what children are taught in schools now, I am pretty damn sure he knew what he was doing was wrong.

If he was genuinely worried about the security of the school's IT system, he could have approached the IT teacher, and shared his concerns, and even offered to demonstrate - that would have been a responsible way to approach the problem.

"I broke in to demonstrate how insecure your security is" is bollocks. If a teenage criminal broke into a house, would we expect the owner to be grateful for the lesson in how insecure his house was, or would we expect him to want the criminal punished? Most would say the latter - though I am sure gaba would shake his hand, thank him for his help, and send him on his way.

I do think that cases like this would suit a system of restorative justice, where the offender has to perform community service (in this case, at the school), and then, if it was a first offence and the offender was under 18, perhaps no mark on their record. This would, I think, reflect the fact that a crime had been committed, and that some form of punishment was required, but that no major damage had been caused, and the offence had been a relatively minor one - so community service and no record could be a proportionate response.

I do think it is very unfair to blame the IT teacher, and to suggest he/she is acting out of hurt feelings - schools have rules, and when those are broken, a report is made, and the Senior Management Team will decide how to proceed. It would have been their decision to involve the police, not the IT teacher's.

prh47bridge Tue 04-Feb-14 09:47:59

Why not wasting police time?

Because you can only be guilty of wasting police time if you knowingly make a false report. If you believe your report to be accurate you cannot be guilty. That is the law.

If you dial 999 to report that someone has stolen your dust cap you probably won't get much response and they may think you are a numpty but you won't be charged with wasting police time. And they certainly won't "come and give you attitude" unless they want to be disciplined.

In any event, you don't know that the school dialled 999. Far more likely that they made a report at the local police station.

ReallyTired Tue 04-Feb-14 09:27:26

Children break laws all the time, and generally schools and police recongise that the criminal courts are not always the right way to deal with law breakers.

It is well known that children are immature and their moral compass is a work in progress. Young offenders are treated differently to adults who are over 21.

ReallyTired Tue 04-Feb-14 09:25:46

In our LEA the county has guidelines when to involve the police in school boy hacking matters. I am surprised that the police is involved for just changing the image on a desktop. Prehaps the school is an academy without LEA guidence.

Children commit crimes all the time and its not always in the public interests to make it a criminal matter. I think with a school boy hacking the account is important to keep things in proportion.

"It's a weird world where the dust cap off someone's tire valve is equated with a school computer system containing hundreds of peoples' personal information."

Schools often have child protection or medical information about children. Misuse or unlawful editing of that information or that information getting into the wrong hands could literacy lead to the death of a child. In a large secondary school a teacher is not ever going to remember which child ourt of 1500 is allergic to peanuts. Often the SEN information is intensely personal and on a need to know basis.

RM or Research Machines is a company is Didcot that provides remote managements of lots of school networks. They provide software to make the management of huge networks far easier. With any network there is a balance between ease of maintaince and security. I don't think you can expect any network to be 100% water light against a determined hacker.

cricketballs Tue 04-Feb-14 09:18:10

I'm astonished that so many on this thread fail to understand that the op's Ds broke the law. No matter the security in place, no matter that he could do it, no matter that 'he only changed an image", no matter than he's a pupil and its the school network - he broke the law

tiggytape Tue 04-Feb-14 09:05:51

So if someone broke into the school and read the private files kept in the office, the person who locked the office door should get into trouble and not the person who broke in?

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