The United States is on high alert following a series of cyber-attacks on significant infrastructures like the Colonial Pipeline and the New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority last June.

Considering how cyber security has improved over the previous 20 years or so, it is astonishing to figure out that hackers always seem to find some new methods to discover and exploit supposedly secure computer networks.

Serious hackers tend to target government institutions’ or private companies’ network systems to access financial and other valuable data.

Hackers then sell the data on the dark web for a not unreasonable amount of money or demand a hefty ransom from the rightful owners.

In comparison to those potentially catastrophic attacks, what Emily Grover and her mother, Lara Carroll, did in October 2020 to the student data of the Escambia County School District might not seem like a big deal, but it was for the locals.

They allegedly hacked into the high school’s voting system to ensure victory for Emily’s homecoming queen contest.

The case has so far escalated to heated personal conflicts.

Escambia County Jail

10 /10 A Sacrificial Lamb

Months after the investigation in November 2020, Emily Grover and Lara Carroll were arrested on March 15, 2021.

Prosecutors accused the pair of tarnishing the noble homecoming tradition, while friends and families believed Emily was a sacrificial lamb in some tech mix-up.

Some of her teachers also argued Emily did nothing wrong. The two arguments have become the critical narratives in the case against the daughter and mother, who have been charged with multiple third-degree felonies and a first-degree misdemeanor.

They face 16 years imprisonment, much harsher than most ransomware attackers would receive.

North Escambia

9 /10 Rig The Election

Suspicions had already come up the night before Emily was crowned the homecoming queen. Despite some red flags on the voting app, the ceremony on October 30 went without any problem at all.

She was wearing a silver dress with a bouquet of roses in her arm. It didn’t take a month until the investigation into the red flags went full stretch.

Lara Carroll has been suspended as an assistant principal in the same school district. Although Emily was 17 when arrested in March, she is now 18 and tried as an adult.






8 /10 Fraudulent Votes

An incriminating problem for the pair was that Lara Carroll did have access to the school district’s student information when she was still an assistant principal at Bellview Elementary School.

It is impossible to deny if she had the opportunity to log into the network’s internal system, giving her the means to cast fraudulent votes and make her daughter win the contest.

The investigation began when the Escambia County School District filed a report citing unauthorized access into hundreds of students’ accounts to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).

The unauthorized access could be linked to the votes.

7 /10 Digital Footprints

During the investigation, the FDLE discovered that 117 votes for the Tate High School homecoming queen contest had been cast through the Election Runner system from the same IP address, all within a short period.

Subsequent digital footprints identification led the police to the home of Lara Carroll, where they also found additional 129 votes linked to computers and cellphones in the property, for a total of 246 allegedly illicit votes.

According to their attorney, both Emily Grover and Lara Carroll have pleaded not guilty.

Google Maps

6 /10 Damaging Statements

Written statements were given by students and teachers to the FDLE agents also proved to be damaging to Emily’s case. Some reports claim that Emily used her mother’s account; others suggest they saw Emily accessing it.

Administrators at the district offices also said they heard rumors about how she told other people that she had used her mother’s credential to cast votes.

At least one statement indicates that everything is not as wrong as people think because Emily only used her mother’s account to access test scores and grades for her friends.

5 /10 Four Years Of Unauthorized Access

According to some witnesses, Emily had made repeated unauthorized access to the school district’s system for about four years.

Investigators confirmed that since August 2019, Carroll’s account had accessed the records of 372 high school students; only 33 of them were not Tate students.

If not for the criminal vote allegation, such an activity wouldn’t have raised concerns as Carroll indeed had district-level access.

The system requires users to change their passwords every 45 days as a preventive measure. FDLE added that Carroll’s annual training for the “Staff Responsible Use of Guidelines for Technology” was updated.

4 /10 Tried As An Adult

Emily Grover was 17 when the police took her into custody, and she was placed in the Escambia Regional Juvenile Detention Center.

About a month later, she turned 18 and is now facing a real possibility of being tried as an adult. Florida’s juvenile courts lose jurisdiction over defendants when they turn 19.

If the trials stretch another year, Emily will receive adult sanctions if found guilty.

She and her mother have been charged with illegally using personally identifiable information, offenses against computer use, unlawful use of two-way communications devices, and conspiracy to commit those crimes.

YouTube

3 /10 Mother Has Spoken

Lara Carroll has made a statement to relieve her daughter from allegations and charges. The mother said Emily is only guilty of looking at (not accessing) the information in the FOCUS program.

As for the hundreds of students’ knowledge Emily is suspected of having looked at, Carroll said her daughter had nothing to do with it; Carroll used her authorized access to view the information.

Emily has an unauthorized view of the data because of her negligence. FOCUS is a student data system containing information about grades and health records.

2 /10 Voting Fraud

In February, law enforcement agents went to Carroll’s home to talk with her. She told the agents that she would defer all questions to her lawyer. Now she and her daughter face felony charges, with seriously harsh consequences.

The costs are about misappropriating access to the computer system and unlawful use of computer files. Although the discovery came to the surface in the context of an election, this is not a voting fraud case.

They have not been charged with rigging the election. Dan Abrams, the chief legal analyst for ABC News, thinks the prosecutors are overcharging.

1 /10 No Plea Deal

The argument of overcharging could be a strategy to urge the defendants to take a plea deal. Considering the evidence, a plea bargain can be good news for the defendants.

However, Carroll and her daughter have refused to take the plea deal and insisted on taking their chances to court. In a case where the evidence essentially is digital footprints, it is typically an uphill battle for the defense lawyer.

To create a clear notion that the fraudulent votes and unauthorized access never happened is going to be a tall order.

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