Commentary

Missouri Governor Was Wrong To Accuse Reporter Of Hacking

Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri made a mistake in accusing a reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatchof hacking a state website that had a significant security flaw. Instead, the governor should praise the newspaper for helping to avoid a costly data breach and potential legal liabilities.

Post-Dispatch reporter Josh Renaud last week notified education officials that a government website listing the names of certification status of teachers also made it easy to find their Social Security numbers. Before reporting the story, the newspaper gave the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education enough time to remove the web pages.

Warning those officials about the exposed data was the right decision for the paper. While it didn’t spare the state government from embarrassment, it likely prevented the personal information of those teachers from falling into the hands of nefarious hackers.
Gov. Parson announced he had asked for an investigation of the reporter, whom he laughably accused of “acting against a state agency to compromise teachers’ personal information in an attempt to embarrass the state and sell headlines for their news outlet.”
It’s silly to mischaracterize a reporter as an outlaw hacker for discovering that private information about state employees was readily available in a web page’s source code. That coding is easy to see by toggling the view in a web browser — a skill that every budding website designer is taught during their first day at code camp.
Parson claimed that it was “unlawful to access encoded data and systems in order to examine other people’s personal information.” He pointed to a state law that described a hacker as someone who accessed data or content without authorization.
Considering that the personal information about the teachers was on a public website, it’s hard to see how the Post-Dispatch’s investigation could be considered an illegal hack. Instead of vilifying the reporter, Parson should focus his efforts on upgrading the security of the state’s information technology before something worse happens, like a massive ransomware attack.

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1 comment about "Missouri Governor Was Wrong To Accuse Reporter Of Hacking".
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  1. Dane Claussen from University of Idaho, October 21, 2021 at 9:52 p.m.

    Why are you wasting this space stating the obvious? No one would seriously believe that a reporter hacked a state website, since that is a crime easily discovered and most reporters don't know how to hack anything. The bigger issue is whether the Missouri news media are covering Gov. Parson as the right-wing nut he clearly is (the story is not that a reporter didn't hack; the story is a state governor making a wild/false accusation against a journalist) or if they are normalizing him in a state that also has recently elected people such as Eric Greitens, Josh Hawley, and multiple Blunts.

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