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DESE warns of threats to its online platforms in recent weeks


The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is warning people in its newsletters this month to be on the lookout for impersonators.

A newsletter this week said, "Several of DESE's online platforms have experienced threat attempts from bad actors in recent weeks."

A spokesperson for the state Office of Administration, Chris Moreland, told ABC 17 News in an email that the Office of Administration's Information Technology Services Division was notified by a state agency that a fake website had been created and was imitating a state department.

Moreland said the Office of Cyber Security and the Missouri Office of Homeland Security immediately shut down the fake website when they were notified of the threat.

"There was no data breach or unauthorized access to personal information maintained by the State of Missouri. (Office of Cyber Security) continually monitors the State's networks for any indicators of compromise or vulnerabilities," Moreland said.

The creation of fake websites is known as "spoofing," and Moreland said it's a common scam tactic.

"Spoofing is used by cybercriminals to impersonate legitimate entities, often through email and/or website manipulation to try and convince individuals that they are interacting with a known, trusted source," Moreland said. "Their goal is to trick you into divulging personal information or install malware on your computer."

The principal threat researcher at cyber security company Malwarebytes ThreatDown Labs said it's an ongoing trend that cyber criminals impersonate government sites. He said it's effective because they can take different approaches and put more pressure on victims.

"With the government, people naturally have this fear and it's something the scammers really take advantage of," Jerome Segura said.

Segura said Malwarebytes sees hundreds of fake sites a day. He said creating fake websites can take less than five minutes, and with certain tools and the use of artificial intelligence it can be easy for cyber criminals to create.

"Registering a website doesn't cost much at all," Segura said. "It can cost less than a dollar."

The state Office of Cyber Security and DESE both have advice for people to avoid falling victim to spoofing:

  • Verify you're communicating with a government agency by checking the email address. It should end in ""
  • Be on the lookout for suspicious links, attachments and downloads.
  • Do not open links from emails from an unknown source.
  • Spoofed sites often consist of URLs that are nearly identical to legitimate websites. Make sure a website is secure by looking for a lock symbol or that it starts with "https." Be wary of websites that don't have that symbol or begin with "http."
  • If someone receives a call that appears to be from a state agency asking for specific information, hang up and call back to ensure you're talking to an authorized representative. DESE's main phone number is 573-751-4212.

Segura also said to be wary of malicious ads online. When people search for government departments on the internet, sometimes fake companies and contact information pop up. He said to instead visit the official government website and always check the address bar.

People should also be wary of anyone pressuring them into making a decision quickly or asking them to pay via wire transfer or gift card.

People can report suspicious activity to the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency.

Segura said once a fake site is up and running, any window of opportunity can be harmful to be victims. Most victims fall for the scam within the first hour.

Article Topic Follows: Missouri

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Morgan Buresh

Morgan is an evening anchor and reporter who came to ABC 17 News in April 2023.


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