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Student accused of changing grades in three classes with professor’s login credentials

Vu Thanh Steven Phan was arrested Wednesday morning on a computer security breach charge. Photo courtesy of Tarrant County Jail.
Vu Thanh “Steven” Phan was arrested Wednesday morning on a computer security breach charge. Photo courtesy of Tarrant County Jail.

TCU has accused a student of stealing his professor’s log in information and signing into the D2L grade book to change his grade, according to arrest warrant affidavits.

Vu Thanh “Steven” Phan, was arrested last month on a charge of breach of computer security between $2,500 and $30,000, a state jail felony.

Phan who had taken eight computer classes, “used his skills as a student here at TCU and . . . had the knowledge and did in an unauthorized capacity make entry into the . . . D2L gradebook along with entry into the PeopleSoft program where he changed his grade in three different classes…,” according to the affidavits provided after an open records request.

TCU spent more than $2,500, but less than $30,000 investigating the matter, according to the affidavits.

Phan is accused of “knowingly accessing a computer system or network…without the effective consent of TCU, the owner and did knowingly obtain a benefit, defraud, or harm,” according to arrest affidavits.

The investigation began during finals week when Professor Daniel Chen, who teaches in the Neeley School of Business, discovered Phan’s altered grades at 8:16 a.m. on Dec. 13. According to the affidavits, the grade was changed with the professor’s credentials, so Chen emailed his colleagues warning them about the breach and to closely monitor the grade book.

Phan’s grades were changed in two other classes – one taught by another professor in Neeley; the other by a computer science professor. All three told investigators, “they did not provide their credentials to any person nor did they give any person access or permission to access the D2L with their credentials,” according to arrest affidavits.

Video footage referenced in the affidavits showed Phan entering Room 226 in Tandy Hall on Dec. 12 at 1:26 p.m. He was alone. He removed a keyboard from his backpack, replacing the keyboard at instructor work station computer with it.

Phan left the classroom at 1:28 p.m. after leaving his keyboard at the instructor’s station. He returned 27 minutes later to take a final exam for Chen’s class.

Phan returned to the classroom in the evening, returning the original keyboard and taking his keyboard back.

Phan used the information captured on his keyboard to log into D2L to change his grades, according to arrest affidavits.

Special Agent Brian Sanders of the Secret Service said keyboard devices can be used to “log keystrokes and illegally obtain password information on computers,” according to the arrest affidavits.

TCU’s Information Technology department had measures in place at the time of breach to prevent an incident like this from happening, according to the university’s spokesperson.

“Those measures are being assessed and additional measures may be added,” the university said in a statement.

Phan met with TCU Campus Life on Jan. 11 to discuss future classes. Afterward, he met accompanied TCU detectives to the campus police station. According to the affidavit, he refused to cooperate with police, denying all involvement in the case.

TCU’s Registrar’s Office said Phan is still enrolled as a student at the university.

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