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Investigation Finds Inmates Built Computers, Hid Them In Prison Ceiling (cbs6albany.com) 258

An anonymous reader quotes a report from WRGB: The discovery of two working computers hidden in a ceiling at the Marion Correctional Institution prompted an investigation by the state into how inmates got access. In late July, 2015 staff at the prison discovered the computers hidden on a plywood board in the ceiling above a training room closet. The computers were also connected to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's network. Authorities say they were first tipped off to a possible problem in July, when their computer network support team got an alert that a computer "exceeded a daily internet usage threshold." When they checked the login being used, they discovered an employee's credentials were being used on days he wasn't scheduled to work. That's when they tracked down where the connection was coming from and alerted Marion Correctional Institution of a possible problem. Investigators say there was lax supervision at the prison, which gave inmates the ability to build computers from parts, get them through security checks, and hide them in the ceiling. The inmates were also able to run cabling, connecting the computers to the prison's network. Furthermore, "investigators found an inmate used the computers to steal the identify of another inmate, and then submit credit card applications, and commit tax fraud," reports WRGB. "They also found inmates used the computers to create security clearance passes that gave them access to restricted areas."
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Investigation Finds Inmates Built Computers, Hid Them In Prison Ceiling

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  • by TFlan91 ( 2615727 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @06:02AM (#54220507)

    H1B Visa cheap labor? Pft. Just look at home and hire some inmates

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Used to be that Dell would use prison labor directly to recycle computers and do tech support. These days UNICOR resells the labor, so any scrutiny is on some faceless corp rather than the corp getting the benefits.

      So yeah, that labor pool is already tapped for silicon valley.

      Real fun is we get to accuse silicon valley corps of doing what we all knew they were doing all along; using software to build poverty traps which in turn break up families and drive up crime so they can hire the criminals for peanuts

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        There is an argument that the American prisons are a disguised version of modern slavery. They perform an *enormous* of manufacturing for which the prisoners receive no wages. And since the prisons are run by private companies they are run for profit, so it's not just to cover their own costs. There is no other country in the world in which such a large percentage of its population is locked up. And thanks to the 3-strikes rule some of them are there for very offences - there are prisoners with a life sente

        • Re: H1B Visa? (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          You are wrong on most items in your list.
          There is not a lot of manufacturing being done by prison inmates. Where they do work, Inmates receive a wage for their work. Most prisons are not privately owned. Three strikes requires theee felony convictions. But, by all means, continue.

          • Re: H1B Visa? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by sdinfoserv ( 1793266 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @11:56AM (#54222133) Homepage
            Someone writes bad checks over $1000 dollars because they're hard on they're luck and making bad choices:
            1 felony,
            Released on bail,
            Got a job as part of release agreement
            Missed 2 court appearances - failure to appear on a felony is a felony
            2 more felonies - now total 3 felonies; 3 strikes rule kicks in and they're gone for life for being down an out and a bad desperate choice.

            Nice system we have.
            • Re: H1B Visa? (Score:4, Interesting)

              by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @12:49PM (#54222513)

              2 more felonies - now total 3 felonies; 3 strikes rule kicks in and they're gone for life for being down an out and a bad desperate choice.

              Bullshit. California has the toughest 3-strikes law in the country, and even there two of the three felonies must be serious or violent crimes.

              Kelly Turner [mercurynews.com] went to prison for life for writing a bad check, but the other two convictions were for armed robbery, not "missing an appointment".

              America's prison system has many serious problems. The reality is bad enough without you making up nonsense.

              • I watched someone go down for life with a felony for stealing a bathmat. It was "violent" in theory, but not practically.

                It was on the back porch. The owner was home. There was a railing, which meant the bathmat was "in" the house. The house was occupied, and burglary of an occupied residence is a violent felony (they treat it like home invasion).

                I had a "violent" felony for making a firecracker. They go off the federal classifications, and flash powder can be a high explosive if you have enough of it.

    • Bill I'm taking off this weekend and if try to call me in I will sank you in the back.

    • Yeah, that explains all the rough-looking guys with tattoos suddenly showing up on Upwork with, ahem, unique skill sets.

  • Someone hire them... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @06:15AM (#54220525)

    They sound like better job candidates that the millennial types that come through our doors. US millennials especially, they seem to think they deserve a cookie for knowing very basic things.

    • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @07:12AM (#54220655) Homepage Journal
      Well, definitely more than the boomers that I regularly see that think they deserve double everyone else's salary for not knowing very basic "computery" things...
      • by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @07:48AM (#54220761)

        Boomers don't need computer thingy. Back in their day they didn't need no stinkin computers. Of course back in their day you hired twice as many people because people were cheap and equipment expensive. Now equipment is cheap and people are expensive.

        • by hey! ( 33014 )

          Son, back in my day we had computers... and they had lights on the front panel that showed you the CPU register contents and switches for loading values into those registers. It was awesome.

          EEs back in the day had a straightforward default approach to controlling current: you make or break a mechanical contact. None of this monitor the input and switch the machine between a low and high power state nonsense. They were mad for switches, so this is what the front panel of a computer looked like [wikimedia.org].

          And every

    • YMMV - I worked with a millennial who was a great guy. I guess we had sympatico because we were both Italian-American.
    • It is easier that PHBs will jail all programmers, to boost their productivity...
    • This "millenial types" stereotyping bullshit needs to end. Can I say all boomers fucked the country up? Maybe they are apathetic because their future looks bleak so they seek to standout, even if seems entirely unwarranted? And lets not forget that you or your kids generation raised these folks and taught them all these traits you seem to hate. Guess your generation sucks too?
  • Motivation is key (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @06:18AM (#54220535)

    See? All you need to overcome the most insane obstacles is motivation. Just think of all the things these poor people had to go through to get internet access!

    It's kinda humbling.

  • by Z80a ( 971949 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @06:29AM (#54220557)

    They found a pirate copy of doom on the computers, which is the thing that turned em into criminals.

  • Hire them (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ruir ( 2709173 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @06:30AM (#54220567)
    They seem to be able to get things working, which is better than most...
  • by sad_ ( 7868 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @06:42AM (#54220587) Homepage

    ...we would all be mocking it's unrealistic plot.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ..or its unrealistic apostrophe usage.

    • ...we would all be mocking it's unrealistic plot.

      Or bitching about your grammar.

    • Why? We already know that back in WW2 neither the Camp Commandant nor his lead Sergeant had the slightest clue that POWs had their bunk beds on slides so they could access their underground radio rooms and secret tunnels. That group of US Army Heroes did an incredible job of spy work and sabotage and never once got caught.

  • Huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by XSportSeeker ( 4641865 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @07:09AM (#54220643)

    How does an inmate goes about building a computer "from parts" as if you could join copper pipes, rocks and whatnot together and magically transform it into a computer? That's not how it works! xD

    Did the inmates have access to electronics recycling centers or something? Were people smuggling RAM chips, CPUs and whatnot inside somehow? This story is so weird...

    • by Uryene ( 307391 )

      Spock could have built one with only stone knives and bearskins.

      • Spock could have built one with only stone knives and bearskins.

        McGyver wouldn't have needed bearskins, which are hard to get in prison.

        Chuck Norris would just have ninja-kicked the cell walls until they collapsed into a computer.

    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

      by azcoyote ( 1101073 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @07:20AM (#54220675)

      From TFA:

      The inmates were able to get the parts from a program where inmates break down computers in order to learn computer skills and recycle the parts.

      • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @07:42AM (#54220747)

        From TFA:

        The inmates were able to get the parts from a program where inmates break down computers in order to learn computer skills and recycle the parts.

        Sounds like the program was successful to me...

      • It's good to see that at least one of our prisons is teaching inmates marketable skills that will allow them to earn a decent living once they are released.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          In Florida, my mom's neighbor (who is in her 60s) works part time for a company that de-solders chips and components from old circuit boards for recycling. The company buys electronic waste for cheap (or sometimes is paid to take it), gets a bunch of old retired ladies together, and they all sit around and chat while they work with their hands taking apart old cordless phones, DVD players and other electronics. The company then resells any reusable chips or parts they can harvest. So, there's demand for

        • Except for that part where no one will hire ex-cons.
    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ledow ( 319597 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @07:36AM (#54220733) Homepage

      That's the least of your worries.

      Nobody noticed them run cable.
      Nobody noticed them tap into the network.
      Nobody noticed them sticking things up in ceilings.
      Nobody noticed them taking power to run this stuff.
      Nobody noticed them using the machine itself.
      Nobody noticed them take items from classes they were in.
      Nobody noticed them use the system to the extent they could access private information and defraud others.

      (Or were prepared to turn a blind eye to ALL the above).

      The problem with the prison is NOTHING to do with them being able to get hold a computer. It's being able to get hold of ANYTHING, even things brought deliberately into the prison for them to hold, without people noticing. And then being so unsupervised or unmonitored that they can basically build a damn network with nobody noticing. No surveillance. No tracking of movements. No wondering where they are. No noticing absences for potentially hours at a time.

      In that time, they could have done ANYTHING they liked, with a lot worse things than a bit of fraud being possible.

      Nobody noticed. Nobody cared. Nobody checked. Nobody counted. Nobody noticed things missing. Or the guards were bribed / threatened to turn a blind eye. That's your problem. Not what they actually got up to.

      • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by houghi ( 78078 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @08:00AM (#54220791)

        And on the other side of the spectrum we have Norway, where they will ask what computer the person wants to use.
        Perhaps thinking of them as humans and not as less than animals might have to do something with it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I'm also surprised that a high security environment like a prison wouldn't require port authentication on any device connected to its network. They were able to simply plug a new computer into a spare port on a switch and didn't need to enable the port, install a certificate, or anything. That seems especially surprising when it gave them access to the systems used to issue access cards.

      • by gti_guy ( 875684 )
        This shows that prison makes criminals more effective. Bad criminals get caught and jailed. Good criminals go about their business unnoticed. So, they've been honing their craft in the stir. Should we really be surprised?
      • There seems to be an expectation in America that people are supposed to get beaten up, raped and occasionally murdered in prison. That's part of the prison experience, and anything less would be like sending criminals on a taxpayer-funded vacation to Disneyland.

      • If that's the problem, then we have pretty light problems. What are the consequences of this problem? Basically nothing.

        As far as bad things happening with/at prisons go, this is easy mode.

      • But someone *DID* notice that a user ID was being used when that person was not on site. It looks like all the other failures that you list above are failures of the guards, but the IT department actually did their job.
        • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Informative)

          by ledow ( 319597 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @11:38AM (#54222031) Homepage

          Like HELL!

          Why can you plug into the network at all? (RADIUS, etc.)
          Why can you plug in unauthorised devices? (NPS, device management etc.)
          Why can you use devices without up-to-date antivirus/firewall etc. (NPS again)
          Why do new things plugged in get access to everything and not just a limited VLAN?
          Why are you able to then get access to something just by a stolen username/password from an authorised device? (Access controls, I mean come on! At least insist that it's a domain-joined device!)
          Why did they not notice until ACCESS WAS ALREADY BEING USED ON THE NETWORK?

          It's pathetic.

          I work in a primary school (up to age 11) and you wouldn't be able to do that to our systems without alarm bells going off.

          In a "secure" environment like a prison, and especially on secure services that can create access cards and open door, the IT department were doing NOTHING LIKE their job.

          Literally, a managed switch and a device management software / Windows server set up properly would have stopped 99% of what they did in its tracks and all they'd have was a stolen username/password they could use only at an authorised machine anyway.

          You basically handed the prisoners the network on a plate, for virus infection, malware installation, Internet access, system compromise, packet-sniffing, etc.

          And you're saying well done because they noticed a whole bunch of suspicious entries in a log after a LONG time of the computer being in a position to do all kinds of damage?

      • You missed the biggest one... "They also found inmates used the computers to create security clearance passes that gave them access to restricted areas." How the hell do they do that? Are the badges just a picture ID? No scanning bar-codes or embedded chips, nothing?
    • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Funny)

      by Coisiche ( 2000870 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @07:38AM (#54220739)

      as if you could join copper pipes, rocks and whatnot together and magically transform it into a computer?

      I'm now speculating how an episode of MacGyver set in a prison would have worked out. And the original MacGyver, not the new one who looks like he'd last nanoseconds in prison.

      • as if you could join copper pipes, rocks and whatnot together and magically transform it into a computer?

        I'm now speculating how an episode of MacGyver set in a prison would have worked out. And the original MacGyver, not the new one who looks like he'd last nanoseconds in prison.

        There's a new MacGyver?

        • There is, but spare yourself, don't look it up or watch an episode. I have seen one and regret it. I thought it was a rerun when I saw it in the TV guide and started watching. I wish it had been a rerun.

        • by gnick ( 1211984 )

          There's a new MacGyver?

          There is a new MacGyver. I loved the original, so I watched part of one new ones. I quickly came to the conclusion that it was made for children. It was ridiculous. Then, reflecting back, I had the revelation that the original was also geared toward children. It was ridiculous too. The difference is that 30 years ago I was a child and Mac was fun. I've aged considerably since then. Most of us have.

          Mac wouldn't need to build a spare parts computer. He'd just use his shoelaces and a pulley to bend the bars an

    • Were people smuggling RAM chips, CPUs and whatnot inside somehow?

      You finally figured out that "parts of computers" means "computer parts" - no, don't worry; that makes you one of the smarter ones. ;)

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @07:19AM (#54220671) Journal
    If only they had born in .ua or .ru or even in .ng they would have had flourishing careers as top dons or at least as top henchmen to top dons. Sad they ended up in USA. Their local don, the for-profit-prison industrial complex cronies do not see the value in the phenomenal access they have to local talent.
  • You just have to get a VLSI design tattooed on your back.

  • I would guess that the major thing would be the screen. Given that phones are basically devices that let you on the Internet, that would be the size that is needed.
    From that device you can easily telnet, ssh and obviously a browser. So that will cover about 99.9 of the Internet usage.

    If they have a screen and remote, a computer stick is all you need. Plug it in and you are done. No need to do any hacking on building.

    If this where a desktop with a full size keyboard and mouse and 24" screen I would be truly

  • credit cards? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jbmartin6 ( 1232050 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @08:15AM (#54220825)

    he just looked through the ODRC system for a young inmate with a long sentence, then used his information to get the cards.

    If the bank is giving a credit card to a prison inmate with a long sentence, I feel like there's a moral imperative for someone to take advantage of them, for their own good.

    • Credit card companies have access to enough of your personal information. Do you want to give them entire prison databases, too?

  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @08:30AM (#54220875) Homepage Journal

    WTF is a prison doing with easily accessible drop ceilings, anyway? That's insane.

  • by RDW ( 41497 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @08:30AM (#54220877)

    The inmates were able to get the parts from a program where inmates break down computers in order to learn computer skills and recycle the parts.

    To be fair, it seems that this program was a complete success.

  • by wjcofkc ( 964165 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @08:47AM (#54220943)
    I am debating as to whether or not this would look good on a resume, namely cyber crime\penetration testing type stuff. I would at least find it intriguing. Some of the crimes they committed indicate they were expecting to be released at least in the next few years. I suppose that will no longer be the case.
    • Re:Resume material (Score:5, Interesting)

      by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @09:24AM (#54221127) Homepage Journal

      Once you're in prison, I would imagine the bar to increase sentencing is rather high. To increase your sentence, you'd have to go through trial, which means the prison has to file with the DA about crimes you committed in prison. There's a limited amount of discretion on early release, on which the prison wardens can provide input; anything beyond this requires judicial oversight.

      Think about it. If you commit a rape or murder in prison, this needs to go to judiciary review. You need due process to examine the evidence. You're in an environment where other inmates can easily create a false image of the situation, and even the administrative staff is under enough obvious stress that trust is limited and personal grudges and abuse are expected. On the other end, every minor infraction doesn't need to become a Federal case; if you steal a fork from the commissary, that warrants disciplinary action, but not necessarily a new extension on your sentence.

      This is hijinks. It's extreme hijinks, but it's still just hijinks. The inmate targeted for identity theft has a case against these people; as for their illegal use of the prison network and the entire chain of events involved, that's more of an administrative manner. This is an environment where people steal stuff, break stuff, and get places they don't belong; even beyond that expectation, this was junk hardware with little to no value to anyone, and thus the damages done by its theft are below standing. Such a scale of high-mischief warrants an extremely-long and uncomfortable talking to, and some unfriendly disciplinary measures; it's more amusing than criminal, though, and doesn't warrant an extreme response.

      tl;dr: Nobody got stabbed or raped, and there wasn't a riot or break-out; somebody will get yelled at a whole hell of a lot and have their free-time privileges suspended, and that's just fine.

      • tl;dr: Nobody got stabbed or raped, and there wasn't a riot or break-out; somebody will get yelled at a whole hell of a lot and have their free-time privileges suspended, and that's just fine.

        Or somebody will be reassigned to a cell with someone who will rape them, because that's how "justice" works in America.

      • by pnutjam ( 523990 )
        Even without adding time, it's easy for Prison Administration to increase the time you serve. Just taking away the "good behavior" early release can add years to a sentence. It's also not that uncommon to prosecute prisoners. Their already in the system, it's not like you have to track down the accused and witness. The paid prison guards make excellent witnesses.
    • the phoenix foundation is not hiring

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @09:13AM (#54221075) Journal

    I don't want to know how they smuggled in the motherboard.

  • by andrewa ( 18630 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @09:20AM (#54221109)

    and it didn't cost them a dime...

  • With a smartphone it'd be way easier!
  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @10:29AM (#54221553) Homepage
    Managers at my government IT job are supposed to return the PCs for reimage and deployment when an employee leaves or a department has layoffs. Some managers don't return the PCs, claiming that IT already took them away. A popular place for storing unused PCs is the utility closet inside women restrooms. Since the site techs are males, they have no business being in the women restroom. The female cleaning crew usually blows the whistles on these PCs as they manage the utility closets. Strangely, only the women restrooms have these utility closets.
  • In the old days you had to spend weeks filing a spoon into a shiv to take out Big Vinny. Today you hack into his mob family's bank account to get even.

  • I can understand that keeping physical contraband from sneaking around a prison might be rather tricky; but it sounds like the admins were, perhaps literally, asleep at the switch if unauthorized devices and users were able to get network access without being noticed.
  • Is sit on your butt, you will think of ways to pass the time of day. Stills, tattoo guns, computers...
  • Furthermore, "investigators found an inmate used the computers to steal the identify of another inmate

    I... eh. Don't care.

  • "tipped off to a possible problem in July, when their computer network support team got an alert that a computer "exceeded a daily internet usage threshold."

    Might want to run a black light over that room, then maybe bleach...

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