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US schoolkids run amok on internet

'Kutztown 13' bypass net filters, crack admin passwords, threaten democracy

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US authorites are preparing to throw the book at 13 high school kids for "computer trespass" after the Dirty Baker's Dozen - aka the Kutztown 13 - bypassed school computer security measures to indulge in an orgy of net surfing and online chat.

The Pennsylvania perps face a 24 August meeting with the beak in the rather agreeably named Berks County juvenile court charged with computer trespass - an "offense state law defines as altering computer data, programs or software without permission" as AP explains. The possible punishments if they are found guilty include juvenile detention, probation and community service, although mercifully it appears that the prosecution will not be pushing for them to meet Ol' Sparky.

Which is surprising, since the list of outrages perpetrated by the gang makes chilling reading indeed.

It all began last Autumn when the education authority supplied around 600 Apple iBook laptops to students at the high school. Naturally, they came complete with net-access-limiting filtering programme, and snooping software allowing the powers that be to see just what their charges were up to.

The administrators had not, however, reckoned on the sheer determination and machiavellian cunning of the students. They quickly found the admin password allowing unrestricted internet access - not by a keystoke logging black op or extracting it from the IT manager at the point of a gun - but rather because it was taped to the back of every machine.

Unsurprisingly, the miscreants immediately ran amok online, surfing with impunity and indulging in that most forbidden of fruits - iChat.

Naturally, in the same way as youngsters sent to borstal will normally complete their sentence rather better informed about improved criminal methodology than rehabilitated back into society, once the Kutztown 13 had access to the wild wild web, they became more sophisticated in their criminal activities.

Although the admin password on some laptops was changed, the rascals cracked that using a decryption programme they found on the net. They also disabled the remote monitoring function and used it to spy on the administrators' own machines.

Finally, and most disturbingly, AP reports that "at least one student viewed pornography".

Hence the 24 August dateline with destiny. The parents of the Kutztown 13 claim that the school has overreacted, and that the kids are being punished for making monkeys of the system, rather than any serious misdemeanour.

One of the criminal masterminds, 15-year-old John Shrawder, reckons a felony conviction could hurt his future prospects. He told AP: "There are a lot of adults who go 10 miles over the speed limit or don't come to a complete stop at a stop sign. They know it's not right, but they expect a fine, not a felony offense."

Shrawder's uncle John agrees, and has set up a campaigning website to champion their cause. He said: "As parents, we don't want our kid breaking in to the Defense Department or stealing credit card numbers. But downloading iChat and chatting with their friends? They are not hurting anybody. They're just curious."

That's as maybe. The school's legal representative, Jeffrey Tucker, insisted: "The students fully knew it was wrong and they kept doing it. Parents thought we should reward them for being creative. We don't accept that."

We're inclined to agree. Older readers will recall that such behaviour in our day would certainly have attracted a sound thrashing with the birch and most likely transportation to the antipodes. The problem with the kids of today is that... [Editorial note: The remainder of this analysis of the state of modern youth can be heard later today in the snug of Ye Olde Boy in Witheringspoonhampton where our correspondent will be found - as ever - muttering "When I were a lad..." into his foaming flagon of Thruppleton's light and mild]. ®

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