Parson promises lawsuits after St. Louis reporter uncovers state data breach

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JEFFERSON CITY – Gov. Mike Parson said he was pursuing criminal charges against the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and its reporters on Thursday after the newspaper discovered a data vulnerability on a state website.

Sections of the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education website allowed a person visiting the site to search for teacher credentials and certifications, revealing social security numbers in the HTML source code of the pages, a reported on Post-Dispatch. This source code is available to anyone visiting a website on a web browser.

After the newspaper alerted the state, the department removed the affected pages and the Post-Dispatch said it delayed publication of the article until the state took action to protect the information.

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At a press conference Thursday morning, Parson attacked the St. Louis newspaper and its staff, accusing them of acting as part of a “political vendetta” against his administration and claiming he had fired the newspaper and its reporters to Cole County and State of Missouri prosecutors. Highway Patrol’s Digital Forensics Unit.

“The Missouri State Highway Patrol is investigating potential unauthorized access to Department of Elementary and Secondary Education data,” a spokesperson for the patrol said in an email. “Because this is an ongoing investigation, the patrol cannot comment further at this time.”

Cole County District Attorney Locke Thompson said in an email his office will not begin its own investigations, but will “review the evidence and determine if criminal charges are appropriate” once the investigation is completed. of the Missouri State Highway Patrol completed. Missouri Supreme Court rules prohibit Thompson from “commenting further on ongoing investigations.”

Parson said the incident could cost taxpayers “up to $ 50 million,” but did not say where the figure came from.

“This individual is not a victim,” Parson said, calling the report “an attempt to embarrass the state and sell titles for their media.” He said he would “not let this crime against teachers in Missouri go unpunished.”

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The statement marks the final point in Parson’s terse relationship with the press. He has frequently criticized the Post-Dispatch, the Kansas City Star and the Missouri Independent for their reporting on the state throughout the pandemic, as recent years and the administration of former President Donald Trump have sparked a new level of anger against journalists.

In the article detailing the discovery of the flaw, the newspaper’s lawyer, Joseph Martineau, said the “journalist did the responsible thing”, and said the ministry calls the incident a “hack” is “no based”.

Grayson Clary, a member of the Journalists’ Committee for Freedom of the Press, called Parson’s move an “irresponsible effort” and a “bullying tactic” designed to “cool the news”.

“These cases are a lot like a store owner trying to control who looks in a window,” Clary told the News-Leader. He said prosecutions in situations like this are rare and that such allegations of “hacking” are “not exactly a common basis of liability.”

The ministry’s website went offline briefly Thursday afternoon at around 2:20 p.m., displaying a “503 Service Temporarily Unavailable” message. It was restored at 3 p.m.

Parson doubled his position in a series of tweets Thursday afternoon.

“We want to be clear, this DESE hack was more than just a ‘right click’,” Parson wrote.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a Democrat from Springfield, defended the Post-Dispatch in a statement Thursday.

“In the true tradition of public service journalism, the Post-Dispatch discovered a problem – a publicly discernible problem for anyone who bother to watch; it verified the problem with experts; and it brought the problem to the fore. the attention of state officials for corrective action, “said Quadé. “The governor should direct his anger at the state government’s failure to keep its technology secure and up-to-date and work to resolve the problem, not threaten journalists with lawsuits for discovering these failures.”

Galen Bacharier covers Missouri politics and government for the News-Leader. Contact him at [email protected], (573) 219-7440 or on Twitter @galenbacharier.



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