Governor Accuses Reporter of Hacking After Flaws in State Website Are Revealed

A reporter at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch this week alerted Missouri training officers {that a} state web site that lists academics’ names and certification standing had a flaw: The web page made the academics’ Social Security numbers simply accessible.

The Post-Dispatch additionally notified the academics’ union and waited two days till the state had fastened the issue earlier than publishing an article on Thursday revealing the safety drawback.

To many, it appeared like the kind of watchdog reporting that many information organizations contemplate the hallmark of accountable journalism. But Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri had a unique view.

At a news conference on Thursday, he stated that he had requested prosecutors and the State Highway Patrol to research the reporter, whom he accused of finishing up a “hack” of academics’ non-public info.

“This individual is not a victim,” Mr. Parson said at the news conference, with out figuring out the reporter or The Post-Dispatch. “They were acting against a state agency to compromise teachers’ personal information in an attempt to embarrass the state and sell headlines for their news outlet.”

He added, “We will not let this crime against Missouri teachers go unpunished.”

The announcement infuriated reporters, other news organizations and media rights groups, who stated the reporter was being threatened with a prison investigation for doing his job.

“The newspaper and the reporter did nothing wrong,” stated Mark Maassen, government director of the Missouri Press Association. “It’s not uncommon for elected officials to blame the media for instances like this. But, in this case, The Post-Dispatch and their reporter should be applauded for uncovering a serious flaw and then alerting the state agency.”

Captain John Hotz, a spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, stated the company was “investigating the potential unauthorized access to Department of Elementary and Secondary Education data.” He declined to remark additional.

Locke Thompson, the prosecuting lawyer for Cole County, stated that his office would study the findings of the State Highway Patrol.

“Once the investigation is complete, I will review the evidence and determine whether criminal charges are appropriate,” he stated.

In a press release, Ian Caso, the president and publisher of The Post-Dispatch, stated that he was “grateful” for the work of Josh Renaud, a news designer and developer who broke the story in regards to the issues with the web site, which is run by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“I think he should be commended for his work and sense of duty,” Mr. Caso stated. “We are surprised and disappointed at the governor’s response and deflection.”

Joe Martineau, a lawyer for the newspaper, stated it was “unfounded” for training officers to deflect the failures of their computer system by portray Mr. Renaud’s reporting as a hack.

“A hacker is someone who subverts computer security with malicious or criminal intent,” he stated. “Here, there was no breach of any firewall or security and certainly no malicious intent.”

The Post-Dispatch stated the Social Security numbers for academics, directors and counselors have been “present” in the HTML supply code of the publicly accessible pages of the web site. The supply code for an internet web page can usually be discovered by right-clicking on it and scrolling all the way down to “view page source.”

Mr. Parson, a Republican, stated that it was “unlawful to access encoded data and systems in order to examine other people’s personal information.”

He cited a state law that stated a hacker was anybody who gained unauthorized entry to info or content material. He stated the reporter had no authorization to “convert or decode” the knowledge on the web site.

“This was clearly a hack,” Mr. Parson stated, including that the state would examine the failings that have been uncovered in the system.

Legal observers stated they have been perplexed by Mr. Parson’s interpretation of what constituted a hack.

Frank Bowman, a professor of regulation on the University of Missouri School of Law, stated that it was tough to think about the prosecution of a reporter who alerted state officers to info he found by analyzing a publicly accessible web site.

The probabilities of prosecutors going after Mr. Renaud, the reporter, “are between zero and zero,” Professor Bowman stated. “They’re not going to embarrass themselves like this.”

Tony Lovasco, a Republican state representative with an expert background in computer systems, stated the governor’s announcement confirmed “a fundamental misunderstanding of both web technology and industry standard procedures for reporting security vulnerabilities.”

“Journalists responsibly sounding an alarm on data privacy is not criminal hacking,” he said on Twitter.

Teachers in the state have been upset to study in regards to the flaws in the system, stated Byron Clemens, spokesman for the native chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, St. Louis Local 420. They have been suggested to get a duplicate of their credit score studies to verify their info has not been compromised.

“It’s a shame that the governor is trying to politicize what was a public service,” Mr. Clemens stated, referring to The Post-Dispatch story.

Sandra Davidson, a professor on the Missouri School of Journalism, stated that whereas she was unnerved by the governor’s aggressive response, she stated it would result in extra dogged reporting.

“Would it so infuriate reporters, editors and publishers that the governor would make this kind of threat that it would, in fact, embolden the journalists?” Professor Davidson requested.

On Friday, The Post-Dispatch continued to observe the story.

It printed another piece on the subject — this one analyzing the “massive computer shortcomings” plaguing the State of Missouri.

Back to top button