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Missouri teachers’ personal data found on state website, governor responds

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo (WGEM) -- Missouri Gov. Mike Parson held a news conference on Thursday to announce that the state would investigate what he called hacking of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's (DESE) website.

The announcement came after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on a vulnerability on the DESE website that it said allowed anyone to search teacher certifications and credentials.

The Post-Dispatch reported it notified DESE about the issue and delayed the publishing of its report to give the department time to resolve the issue. The Post-Dispatch said the department had removed the pages from the site prior to the paper publishing its story.

In Thursday's news conference, Gov. Parson said through a "multi-step process an individual took the records of at least three educators, decoded the HTML source code, and viewed the social security numbers of those specific educators."

What the governor described as hacking could be done by any person by clicking a button on their browser to view the source code of a website. However, in this case, personal information was made available by the state in that source code.

The Post-Dispatch reported that its attorney Joseph Martineau, of Lewis Rice, made the following statement late Wednesday:

“The reporter did the responsible thing by reporting his findings to DESE so that the state could act to prevent disclosure and misuse,” Martineau said in a written statement. “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.

The Post-Dispatch reported that it notified the state of the problem, and gave the Parson administration time to fix it before publishing the story.

Gov. Parson said it is unlawful to access encoded data and systems in order to examine people's personal information and we are coordinating state resources to respond and utilize all legal methods available," Parson said. "My administration has notified the Cole County Prosecutor of this matter, the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Digital Forensic Unit will also be conducting an investigation of all of those involved."

Gov. Parson added, "this matter is a serious matter. The State is committing to bring to justice anyone who hacked our system and anyone who aided or encouraged them to do so. "

Gov. Parson went on the accused the "individual" 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.

“For DESE to deflect its failures by referring to this as ‘hacking’ is unfounded," Martineau said. "Thankfully, these failures were discovered.”

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Jim Roberts

Social Media & Digital Content Manager

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