Tempering justice with mercy?

A number of people have commented on Twitter and on this blog that the young man who was arrested for breaching the Houston Healthcare database should have been thanked and/or hired. If this were 1983, I might agree with them, but I found myself taking a harder line about the breach as it was not a victimless crime.

But there’s another case where I think it would be a shame to prosecute a young person: the Canadian  student who demonstrated how easy it was to compromise the student portal of the Thames Valley school district. The student explained his actions by saying:

“I did it to prove to people that their information isn’t as secure as they think, and so they should use different passwords for things, and to get the message across that the website was insecure, because the teachers sure didn’t listen to me.”

If he had really tried to warn them by telling his teachers, his actions are more forgivable. I wouldn’t expect a teen to know how to go up the administrative food chain. And in this case (as in the Houston Healthcare case), his actions resulted in a hardening of security. The Canadian Press reports:

A school board near London, Ont. will upgrade computer security after a hacker exposed passwords of up to 27,000 high school students.

The security breach Thursday left passwords for the student portals on a Facebook page. That let people see student marks and schedules. Thames Valley and all schools in the Canada and the U.S. can make this a teachable moment.

Officials with the Thames Valley District School Board say the upgrades should be done in a couple of weeks.  Passwords and web pages for students will then be encrypted.

School districts need to teach students what to do if they discover what they think is a security problem. And teachers need to be taught to pass along student-reported concerns to the district’s IT department for investigation.

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  1. Golde - October 25, 2010

    The issue with the job seeker is the question: Was there a breach with mal-intent? I don’t think so. If he had thought it out, he probably should have asked permission to try to breach the site during his interview as a way of proving his skill. That would have been the most responsible way to handle it. He showed bad judgement in doing the deed first but there was no mal-intent, it was a way to show a skill set. I think the punishment is too harsh and they still should hire him.

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