A reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch identified an error in a Missouri state agency’s website that exposed thousands of residents’ Social Security numbers. The newspaper held off on publishing the story to prevent hackers from leveraging the problem, and it notified the agency of the error on Tuesday.
Now, according to the Missouri Independent, that reporter is facing prosecution as Republican Missouri Governor Mike Parson alleges the reporter actually hacked into the website for malicious purposes, and he’s referring the case to state law enforcement for investigation and prosecution.
“The state does not take this matter lightly,” Parson said Thursday at a press conference. “This administration is standing up against any and all perpetrators who attempt to steal personal information and harm Missourians.” He referred the case to the Cole County Prosecutor and has asked the Missouri State Highway Patrol to investigate.
The problem happened with a state website that lists teachers’ qualifications and certifications. While the site itself didn’t display the teachers’ Social Security numbers, any user could access the information by inspecting the underlying code, which contained information from a data table listing more data.
“The state is committed to bring to justice anyone who hacked our system and anyone who aided and abetted them to do so,” Parson said, later arguing that the reporter was “attempting to embarrass the state and sell headlines for their news outlet.”
In a statement, the newspaper defended its actions, saying it proceeded responsibly when it found the security breach. “A hacker is someone who subverts computer security with malicious or criminal intent. Here, there was no breach of any firewall or security and certainly no malicious intent. For DESE to deflect its failures by referring to this as ‘hacking’ is unfounded. Thankfully, these failures were discovered.”