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Highway Patrol finishes investigation of Post-Dispatch reporter in 'hacking' investigation

Captain John Hotz said the investigation was complete and the findings were turned over to the Cole County Prosecutor's office.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri State Highway Patrol has finished its investigation of a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter accused of "hacking" by Governor Mike Parson in October.

Capt. John Hotz with the highway patrol's Public Information and Education Division said the investigation was complete and the findings were turned over to the Cole County prosecutor's office. Hotz did not provide any other information about the investigation.

The investigation relates to a report by the newspaper that found personal information of teachers across Missouri was stored on the website of the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), leaving it vulnerable. 

RELATED: Missouri teachers' personal information was vulnerable on state website in security flaw exposed by St. Louis newspaper

The Post-Dispatch alerted state officials about the issue, which they said was “in a web application that allowed the public to search teacher certifications and credentials.” State officials took down the pages involved after it was brought to their attention.

DESE sent out a news release Wednesday that said a hacker got the records of three teachers, getting access to their Social Security numbers.

The Post-Dispatch disputed the state’s characterization of the incident as a hacking in an updated story defending their actions.

“In reality, the Post-Dispatch discovered the vulnerability and confirmed that the nine-digit numbers were indeed Social Security numbers. The paper then told the department that it had confirmed the vulnerability with three educators and a cybersecurity expert,” the newspaper reported.

Gov. Mike Parson addressed the security issue in a news conference later in the week, saying the personal information wasn’t “clearly visible nor searchable on any of the web pages. The newspaper found that teachers’ Social Security numbers were contained in the HTML source code of the pages involved.”

The Post-Dispatch said it worked to expose the flaw to protect more educators. Parson said the person responsible will be held accountable and said the highway patrol would handle the investigation.

“This individual is not a victim. 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,” Parson said.

The state is now directing teachers to free credit monitoring services, like those available at AnnualCreditReport.com.

RELATED: Missouri offering 12 months theft monitoring services to current and former teachers

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