Threat Hunting, Governance, Risk and Compliance

Missouri will not charge reporter that governor accused of hacking

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson responds to a  question from a different reporter in 2019.  (Photo by Jacob Moscovitch/Getty Images)

Cole County, Missouri, prosecutors have decided not to charge a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter with hacking, despite Missouri Gov. Mike Parson calling him a criminal hacker.

Reporter Josh Renaud notified the state that more than 100,000 educators' Social Security numbers were embedded in the HTML code of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. While a public records request showed the state education commissioner initially planned on publicly thanking Renaud, Parson quickly insisted that viewing website source code — a built-in feature of all web browsers since the 1990s — was criminal hacking.

"It is not in the best interest of Cole County citizens to utilize the significant resources and taxpayer dollars that would be necessary to pursue misdemeanor criminal charges in this case," prosecutor Locke Thompson told local television station KRCG.

The FBI informed the state that the incident was "not an actual network intrusion" on Oct. 13. In late December, Parson said he was still confident that Cole County prosecutors would charge Renaud.

Beyond what many interpreted as Parson being retaliatory for professional embarrassment, experts in responsible disclosure worried that the governor would create a chilling effect for researchers that would impact Missouri businesses and the government.

In a statement posted to his personal website, Renaud cited scripture.

"Since my ordeal began, I have tried to follow Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:44 to 'bless
those who curse you' and to 'pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.' It hasn’t
been easy," he wrote. "But the investigation has run its course. So now I pray Gov. Parson’s eyes will be opened, that he will see the harm he did to me and my family, that he will apologize, and that he will show Missourians a better way."

Joe Uchill

Joe is a senior reporter at SC Weekly, focused on policy issues. He previously covered cybersecurity for Axios, The Hill and the Christian Science Monitor’s short-lived Passcode website.

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