ST. PAUL — A hacker or hackers early this week defaced two Minnesota government web pages with anti-government images or messages, officials confirmed Wednesday, Aug. 7.

State information technology officials will continue to investigate, but as of Wednesday, they said they had no reason to believe any sensitive information was compromised. The effort was more akin to internet vandalism, comparable to graffiti tagging in the real world, as opposed to a true “breach” involving theft, according to officials with MNIT, the state’s IT agency.

The two pages targeted were in the realm of the Department of Human Services. While the pages are technically public, they’re only used by government workers, and there’s no evidence anyone from the public viewed the content, officials said.

One of the pages is used by local workers to report to DHS how much time they spend administering state programs, while the other is connected to the refugee services. However, officials don’t believe the attack was connected to refugee or immigration issues — or even DHS or Minnesota as a whole.

“The fact that the identical tag was found elsewhere on the internet on non-government sites makes it clear that this wasn’t a message crafter for us or those particular pages,” said Aaron Call, Minnesota’s chief information security officer.

The hack appears to have taken place overnight Sunday, and the state’s Security Operations Center learned of it Monday. Within two hours, the pages had been taken down, as had a third page, which was not affected but was taken down out of caution, Call said.

Defacement threat

While breaches of sensitive computer networks garner headlines because they can lead to theft of money or identity — and because their disclosure is often required by state and federal laws — the type of attack in this incident is still a concern for IT officials.

Unlike breaches, in which the hackers could be able to make money selling stolen information, defacing websites with images or messages is rarely about money. Sometimes the motive is political, such as when hacktivists attempt to spread a message to the public via a high-profile website. But often it’s just to brag via various online hacker boards.

While Minnesota’s state computer networks are attacked about 3 million times a day, the vast majority of those attacks are ultimately unsuccessful. Call said it’s uncommon for a state web page to be defaced. He said it happens less than once a year to state sites.