EDUCATION & SCHOOLS

Investigation into electronic device at Utah high school raises larger concerns for police

Apr 1, 2024, 11:18 AM

Moab police say a student was using this device to interrupt classroom electronics and cellphones. ...

Moab police say a student was using this device to interrupt classroom electronics and cellphones. (Flipper Zero website)

(Flipper Zero website)

MOAB — In January, a teacher at Grand County High School couldn’t figure out why the electronics in her room kept going out for a whole week straight.

“(The) class electronics were not working during first hour. This resulted in a high level of frustration on the part of (the teacher), because without the computers, projectors and other hardware not functioning, she could not teach her class effectively, and her students’ education was set back as a result, putting the class a week behind in curriculum for the quarter,” according to court documents.

A cellphone owned by another instructor in the classroom also stopped working during this time and had to be replaced.

As the school tried to figure out what was happening, administrators learned that a student may have been responsible for the chaos. That’s when Moab police were contacted and became involved, Chief Alexander Bell told KSL.com.

What police soon discovered was the student was using a device called a Flipper Zero.

Bell admits that he was unaware of what a Flipper Zero was prior to the incident at the high school. And while the incidents at the school ultimately resulted in only misdemeanor charges in juvenile court, Bell says after researching the device, he’s highly concerned about how else it could be used.

“People should become familiar with them and what they’re capable of,” he said. “It’s a little worrisome.”

On its website, Flipper Zero advertises itself as a “multi-tool device for geeks” while proclaiming “it loves hacking digital stuff, such as radio protocols, access control systems, hardware and more. It’s fully open-source and customizable, so you can extend it in whatever way you like.”

The small device, which looks like a portable toy video game, is able to read, copy and emulate radio-frequency identification waves, or infrared signals. For example, it can be programmed to be a remote for a television.

But Bell says the device can also act as an access badge and unlock doors of businesses, unlock cars and open garage doors, which he says is highly concerning when used illegally by those who wouldn’t normally have access to a business or someone else’s car or garage. Hackers can use the device as a kind of bluetooth skimming device, he said.

Last week, a Canadian regulatory agency — after initially stating it would fully ban Flipper Zero in Canada — announced it planned to ban illegitimate uses of the device. The company responded to the initial ban proposal by stating the “accusations are ill-informed” and that the device is not capable of stealing cars.

In 2022, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents seized a shipment of 15,000 Flipper Zero devices being shipped into the country, though they eventually released the shipment.

The company criticized the proposed Canadian ban as highly selective, saying the internal electronics Flipper Zero uses have been widely available for years and are used by numerous other devices, according to BleepingComputer, an information security and technology news publication.

In Moab, as police continued their investigation, they learned the student with the device had also tampered with several other students’ electronic devices by temporarily disabling their phones, according to court documents.

“The more (the student) did this, the more ‘confident he became with it, he was barely even hiding it,'” one student told police, according to a search warrant affidavit. “He was able to turn off the smart board and projector, causing the teacher to work on IT all class instead of teaching.”

Detectives say it reached a point at the high school that the teen walked into a classroom “and other students yelled at him to leave because he’d been using a device to turn off their phones,” court documents state. “The students told (that teacher that his) device was capable of ruining their phones.”

The Grand County School District declined comment for this story. The affidavit says the student was expelled from the high school.

The student was referred to juvenile court on charges of electronic communication harassment and property damage for permanently disabling a teacher’s phone, Bell said.

Bell encourages parents and even adults who don’t have children to be aware of the Flipper Zero devices and what they are capable of doing, while also encouraging teens not to engage in illegal activity just because they think it’s funny.

KSL 5 TV Live

Education & Schools

Utah's Winter Sports School, located in Park City educates student-athletes during the summer month...

Karah Brackin

Winter Sports School in Park City helps student-athletes pursue academics, sport

Winter Sports School in Park City designed to bridge the best of both worlds — academic and sports — at the highest level.

5 hours ago

The BYU Rocketry Team took home three awards at the 2024 Spaceport America Cup in New Mexico. (Brig...

Emma Benson

BYU Rocketry Team blasts off at intercollegiate competition

The BYU Rocketry Team took home three awards at the 2024 Spaceport America Cup in New Mexico.

2 days ago

FILE - In this May 13, 2018, file photo, new graduates walk into the High Point Solutions Stadium b...

Jocelyn Gecker, Associated Press

Is college worth it? Poll finds only 36% of Americans have confidence in higher education

A new poll finds Americans are increasingly skeptical about the value and cost of college. More than two-thirds of adults surveyed in the poll released Monday by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation say they feel the U.S. higher education system is headed in the "wrong direction."

7 days ago

Megan Hamilton, a decorated STEM professor for Utah State University and Weber State University, we...

Mary Culbertson

Fund launched for Indigenous students in STEM following missing professor’s death in Cache County

After a Utah STEM educator's death, Utah State University launched a fund that carries her legacy forward, helping Indigenous scholars pursue the STEM field.

13 days ago

FILE - Bibles are displayed in Miami. Religious publishers say President Trump's most recently prop...

Sean Murphy, Associated Press

Oklahoma state superintendent orders schools to teach the Bible in grades 5 through 12

Oklahoma's top education official is ordering public schools to incorporate the Bible into lessons for grades 5 through 12. State Superintendent Ryan Walters issued a memo Thursday to school superintendents across the state.

18 days ago

WASHINGTON - JUNE 23:  A copy of the Ten Commandments is displayed outside the U.S. Supreme Court J...

Sara Cline and Kevin McGill Associated Press

Lawsuit challenges new Louisiana law requiring classrooms to display the Ten Commandments

Civil liberties groups have filed a lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s new law mandating that the Ten Commandments must be displayed in every public school classroom.

21 days ago

Sponsored Articles

young male technician is repairing a printer at office...

Les Olson

Unraveling the dilemma between leasing and buying office technology

Carefully weigh these pros and cons to make an informed decision that best suits your business growth and day-to-day operation. 

A kitchen in a modern farmhouse....

Lighting Design

A room-by-room lighting guide for your home

Bookmark this room-by-room lighting guide whenever you decide to upgrade your lighting or style a new home.

Photo courtesy of Artists of Ballet West...

Ballet West

The rising demand for ballet tickets: why they’re harder to get

Ballet West’s box office is experiencing demand they’ve never seen before, leaving many interested patrons unable to secure tickets they want.

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 internet safety tips for kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why printer security should be top of mind for your business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Investigation into electronic device at Utah high school raises larger concerns for police