Inmates in Ohio prison built computers hidden in ceiling, connected them to prison network
Inmates at a medium-security Ohio prison secretly assembled two functioning computers, hid them in the ceiling, and connected them to the Marion Correctional Institution’s network. The hard drives were loaded with pornography, a Windows proxy server, VPN, VOIP and anti-virus software, the Tor browser, password hacking and e-mail spamming tools, and the open source packet analyzer Wireshark.
That’s according to a new report (PDF) from the Ohio Office of the Inspector General, which concluded that the geeky inmates obtained the parts from an onsite computer skills and electronics recycling program. The agency’s IT department, according to the report, initially was alerted to a connected device, using a contractor’s stolen credentials, that had “exceeded a daily Internet usage threshold.” The computers were operational for about four months. After a three-week search, they were discovered above a training room closet in an area off limits to unsupervised inmates. Ultimately, the authorities traced cable from a networking switch to find the devices that were assembled with discarded computers from an Ohio aircraft parts company and an Ohio school district.
A forensic analysis of the hard drives found that they were loaded with “malicious” software and that inmates used the computers to apply for credit cards, research tax-refund fraud, search inmate records, and obtain prison access passes for restricted areas. “Additionally, articles about making home-made drugs, plastics, explosives, and credit cards were discovered,” according to the report.
One inmate called and texted his mother, according to the report. “I would have texted yesterday, but I wasn’t able to get online,” one message to the inmate’s mother read.
Five inmates were implicated in the scandal and were transferred to other institutions. Inmates accessed the secret devices via the prison’s inmate-authorized computers.
The inspector general’s report found that inmates “took two computers that should have been disassembled, placed hard drives into the computers, installed a network card, transported the computers across the institution for approximately 1,100 feet, through the security check point without being searched or challenged by staff, accessed an elevator to the third floor and placed the two computers in the ceiling of the P3 training room.” The report added that “they also ran wire, cable, and power cords to connect the devices undetected onto the ODRC (Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction) network.”
Randall Meyer, the Ohio inspector general, said the prison’s lax supervision allowed a situation akin to “an episode from Hogan’s Heroes.”
“It surprised me that the inmates had the ability to not only connect these computers to the state’s network but had the ability to build these computers,” Meyer said. “They were able to travel through the institution more than 1,100 feet without being checked by security through several check points, and not a single correction’s staff member stopped them from transporting these computers into the administrative portion of the building. It’s almost as if it’s an episode of Hogan’s Heroes.”
Meyer’s report was sent to local prosecutors for review.
In response, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said it has “already taken steps to address some areas of concern” and that it “will thoroughly review the reports and take any additional steps necessary to prevent these types of things from happening again