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August 31. 2012 7:28PM

Prisoner computer hacking probed

CONCORD — State prison officials acknowledged Friday that investigators are trying to determine whether any prisoner data was compromised during a computer system security breach Aug. 24, saying “appropriate disciplinary action” will be taken against all involved.

“At this point forensic examinations of the affected computers are under way to determine whether any information was accessed or otherwise compromised,” said New Hampshire Department of Corrections spokesman Jeff Lyons.

As first reported by the New Hampshire Union Leader on Friday, the New Hampshire State Police Major Crimes Unit responded to the state prison in Concord on Friday, Aug. 24, along with the Department of Corrections (DOC) Investigations Team and personnel from the state's Department of Information Technology, to investigate what was termed as a “breach” involving the computer system used to store and manage all correctional facility records.

On Friday, Lyons offered more details regarding the breach.

“Corrections staff discovered a security breach of a cable, which connects an internal computer network to work stations, located in the Correctional Industries area of the prison,” said Lyons. “The area was secured and the shops were closed. This network is mainly used to track invoices and billing for Correctional Industries contracts. The server on which this data is maintained is a stand alone server from the DOC network, which also supports the offender management database system otherwise known as the Corrections Offender Records and Information System (CORIS). However, the breach resulted in the two networks being connected. The criminal investigation will determine the cause of the security breach and whether any data was compromised.”

Gov. John Lynch's press secretary, Colin Manning, said Friday, “The Department of Corrections is conducting an investigation with the state police into this incident. It's an ongoing investigation at this point.”

The shops — which include the license plate shop, the printing shop, the woodworking shop, the furniture shop, and the sign shop — were reopened for production on Wednesday, but inmates do not have access to the computers at this time, Lyons said.

Mark Jordan, former president of the union representing prison guards, said this week that he was told by current prison guards and civilian staff that Federal Bureau of Investigation agents had responded to the prison, as recently as Thursday, but Lyons disputed that.

“The FBI is not involved in this investigation, but that does not mean we would not seek their expertise or any other law enforcement agency's expertise at a future date to assist in the investigation,” said Lyons.

Greg Comcowich, a spokesman for the regional office of the FBI in Boston, said his department was not involved in the investigation at this time.

Jordan said he was told that inmates had gained access to the prison's CORIS system which would, in theory, give them access to addresses and contact information for prison staff members, as well as sentencing and parole dates — and the ability to possibly alter them.

“This is a security issue,” said Jordan. “If they were able to gain access to this information, who knows what else they could have access to?”

Lyons said the computer system where the breach happened was “connected” to the CORIS system by the hackers, but he would not speculate whether any data was compromised.

“CORIS is password protected and only certain staff have the ability to add to or otherwise change the data that is maintained there,” said Lyons. “Most other data on the DOC network is password protected and anyone who attempted to access that would be blocked unless they had the appropriate password. Appropriate disciplinary action will be taken when all of the facts are gathered at the conclusion of the investigation. It is unknown how long that investigation will take.”

Abilis New England, which designed and built the CORIS system for the DOC when it was implemented in 2008, explained in a release that “CORIS connects relevant stakeholders through a single electronic offender record and centralized database, thereby providing a holistic view of the offender's status, history and risk profile. Through access to complete, accurate, real-time information, corrections officers can make more informed decisions related to treatment and security, helping to improve tracking and management of offenders as they move through the system.”

“I'm told an inmate, or inmates, were able to hack into the CORIS system,” said Jordan. “Once they are in there, they could have access to parole dates, sentencing information, programming schedules for inmates, staff information. And they could change any of that. They could delete information from other states.”

pfeely@unionleader.com


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