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College Kid Changed His Grades 90 Times with a High-Tech Hack, FBI Says

Trevor Graves now faces up to 20 years in prison for allegedly using keylogging devices to steal his teachers' tests and passwords.
Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

Rather than take the time to study, pull off a Mission Impossible-style heist, or just wing it, a former University of Iowa student allegedly created a lengthy high-tech scam to cheat on his college exams—landing himself two federal hacking charges.

According to the Associated Press, Trevor Graves was arrested late last month on federal charges connected to a sophisticated cheating scheme that allegedly involved installing malicious software on the university's computers and collecting the keystrokes of professors who used them. Graves, a former UI wrestler, is charged with installing what are known as keylogging devices on computers in university classrooms and labs, and using them to record everything professors typed, including their passwords.


Keylogger software intercepts the commands a keyboard sends to a computer, recording every time a user hits a key. The FBI believes harvesting the login credentials of his teachers allowed Graves to steal advanced copies of exams, as well as access university grading and email systems.

Graves allegedly changed his grades more than 90 times during a two-year period, and extended his services to at least five other students. According to the AP, he used the info he gathered from the keyloggers to get an unfair advantage in many of his classes, including business, engineering, and chemistry.

According to the Daily Iowan, the cheating scheme was busted in December 2016 when a professor noticed that a series of students' grades had been altered without her approval. The professor notified the university's IT department, which then alerted the cops after discovering that at least four different students had their grades changed and a handful of teachers' login information had been compromised.

The FBI then launched its own investigation, interviewing several students and pinpointing Graves as the culprit. Agents reportedly found keyloggers and thumb drives in Graves's apartment that contained copies of tests, as well as text messages between other classmates discussing the scheme. The University of Iowa says it's spent nearly $68,000 investigating the breach and strengthening its information security systems in response.

Graves's scheme is far from original, but it's something the FBI takes very seriously. Earlier this year, keyloggers were found planted across Carleton University in Canada and in January, a 21-year-old from Virginia pleaded guilty to designing a type of keylogging software that was used to spy on more than 16,000 people. Graves now faces two federal charges of computer hacking that could land him in prison for up to 20 years.

Related: Thomas Morton on the Books You Should and Shouldn't Read About College