High School Virus Prankster Facing Prison
by Brian McWilliams, PC World News Radio
March 13, 1998

 A Michigan student has been expelled from high school and faces fines and 
possible imprisonment for unleashing viruses in his school's computer lab. 
But virus experts and the boy's attorney say the school district is to 
blame for the $60,000 in damage allegedly caused by the boy.

60,000 on a high school network? That is enough to replace the
entire network, and pay a teacher's salary for one year.

According to officials at Godwin Heights High School in a suburb of Grand 
Rapids, last month 16-year-old Michael Beaulieu downloaded a collection of 
approximately 60 viruses from the Internet to a home computer, and then 
knowingly unleashed them on a classroom PC.

Dana Houseman is a network specialist for the Godwin Heights school 
district. He says the school found out about the viruses after a teacher 
overheard another student say that Beaulieu had brought the viruses to 
school. According to Houseman, the school's PCs were not running antivirus 
software because of budget constraints, though servers on the school's 
Novell network were protected.

Even though free anti-virus software exists...

Houseman quarantined the infected PC and ran antivirus utilities, which 
detected at least four viruses.

"The most dangerous one was WinStart," says Houseman. "That virus attacks 
the winstart.bat file....It would run its routine and then hang in a loop." 
Houseman adds, "We didn't lose any data in the process."

Yet there was 60,000 dollars of damage?

After several users at the school and in the district's administrative 
offices began reporting problems booting their computers, Houseman tried to 
contain the situation by shutting down the network and asking users to stay 
off their PCs. Then he scanned for viruses on the district's 12 servers and 
800 PCs and cleaned up 130 contaminated systems. The task disrupted 
computer classes and other computer users in the district, including the 
business office, for more than two days.

Godwin Heights principal James Takacs says he immediately suspended the 
student, Beaulieu, and under instructions from the district's business 
manager, began assessing the financial impact of the damage.

According to Takacs, the business manager calculated that the lost staff 
time was worth about $40,000. "And then they purchased that new antivirus 
system for $18,000 or $19,000," Takacs says. "The total cost came to 
something in excess of $60,000."

40,000 is a teacher's YEARLY salary...

On Monday night, the school board voted five to two to expel Beaulieu, a 
sophomore, until at least next January. Meanwhile, county prosecutors may 
file criminal charges against him, and the school has presented Beaulieu's 
attorney, William Van Eck, with a bill for $66,000.

Van Eck says his client had no intent to cause damage, and he claims the 
district was negligent because it didn't have antivirus software installed.

Although Beaulieu admitted to school officials that he brought in the 
viruses to get attention, Jonathan Wheat, a virus expert with the 
International Computer Security Association, says the district's virus 
problem may not be Beaulieu's fault.

"It's possible that they had a virus problem and nobody noticed it until 
this guy's little collection was detected," Wheat says. "It's very common 
for a computer lab or network to have a virus problem that nobody knows 
about until they get the latest antivirus software. So it's possible that 
he didn't cause all these infections."

Also called into question is the district's handling of the disinfection 
process. David Stang, head of the Quarterdeck Anti-Virus Research Center, 
says Winstart is a relatively benign virus that doesn't destroy data. 
What's more, he says, it can't be transmitted over a network. "It doesn't 
seem to attach to any other existing files, so it's unlikely to spread. 
Also, it's absolutely painless to remove."

According to Stang, victims of virus attacks often overreact and do more 
damage trying to remove the virus than the virus itself would have caused.

"We hear stories all the time of the mayhem...induced by the virus-recovery 
crew," Stang says. "All viruses seem, sooner or later, to cause 
consequential damage--it's indirect damage. You have to be surgeons when it 
comes to computers, you cannot be butchers."

Local prosecutors didn't return phone calls from PC World News Radio, but 
they are reportedly considering filing criminal charges against Beaulieu 
for malicious destruction of school property. He could face ten years in 
prison and a $10,000 fine, according to Takacs.

Talk about the punishment not fitting the crime...

Even without formal prosecution, says Beaulieu's attorney Van Eck, Beaulieu 
has already paid a big enough price, given the impact on his college 
aspirations of being expelled from high school: "It's really going to hurt 
this kid, and I think it's a gross overreaction."

Prosecutors are expected to decide whether to send Beaulieu's case to the 
state attorney general within three weeks.