Inmates Secretly Build and Network Computers while in Prison

This is kind of amazing:

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.

Another article.

Clearly there’s a lot about prison security, or the lack thereof, that I don’t know. This article reveals some of it.

Posted on May 30, 2017 at 12:47 PM15 Comments


Aaron May 30, 2017 1:13 PM

This reminds me of stories I’ve heard where prison inmates bugged a prison staff member’s office with a crude FM transmitter. They made it from scrap parts found along the side of the road when cleaning freeways and used it to tell when cell searches we’re going to happen. Just think of what awesome things these people could do if they were given a different path in life…

repka May 30, 2017 2:19 PM

I’m pretty sure every other prison uses free labor from some network admin doing time there. Nothing surprising here.

Chris Zweber May 30, 2017 3:47 PM

I watch a lot of prison documentaries and security is hard inside for stuff like this, hiding contraband etc.

The inmates have 24/7 to defeat security being put into place by guards on 8 hour shifts who don’t really care that much.

moops May 30, 2017 4:06 PM

This was from a month ago over at Ars. comment thread there was fun. The prisoners had a script kiddie bundle on the drive, but I suspect they didn’t know how to use most of them, given that they made some obvious hacking mistakes.

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.”

God damnit, Steve, I told you to set a rate limit on the torrent client.

Clive Robinson May 30, 2017 5:58 PM

The old saw of,

“The devil makes work for idle hands”

Would appear to apply.

Though building a computer from bits of other computers is not exactly a trial of Hercules.

What is more interesting is that they managed to smugle the parts around the prison. I can only surmise they went for the “In plain sight and blag it”. A bit like the old joke about the “donky smuggler”.

Radio May 31, 2017 12:57 AM

the film Hunger starring Michael Fassbender, true story, includes IRA prisoners smuggling and hiding banned radios to stay abreast of political developments outside

Larry May 31, 2017 4:43 AM

@Aaron “GIVEN a different path”? These people CHOSE their path. They could have chosen a different path.

ts May 31, 2017 4:53 AM

why do prisons even have ceiling plates?
they are just asking for stuff to be hidden there.

Clive Robinson May 31, 2017 8:11 AM

@ TS,

why do prisons even have ceiling plates?
they are just asking for stuff to be hidden there.

Because it was probably not the incarceration part of the Prison when originaly built. If designed for administrative or similar the building codes would take precedence then cost. Thus a generic pre-designed solution.

There would be an assumption that any prisoners going into such an area would be searched on entry and exit, and accompanied or monitored continuously whilst in there.

But there is always an assumption when things don’t work…

One would be the guards assuming they are looking for the normal sort of contraband on entry such as drugs, weapons etc, and on exit small hidden items of value to other prisoners. Bits of old computer do not realy fit in with the guards world view of contraband.

For instance a prisoner taking parts out to be disposed of because they are broken beyond use. A guard would not be able to spot a working device from a non working device. So the inmate has the advantage and can hide a working device in plain sight to get it out. Having been searched for contraband on exiting the area to go to refuse etc in the company of a guard they are not likely to be searched on return. All the inmate has to do is palm the part in some way out of sight of the accompanying guard and thus the inmate now has a functional part “off book” to hide away for later use.

Likewise is a guard going to treat a case as top botom, inside cage powersupply etc etc or just a top and bottom?

The inmates will have plenty of opportunity to “dry run” broken parts to find which guards etc that will allow them to do the run for real.

As for getting stuff into the ceiling, the biggest problem will be the noise of the fans etc longterm, and not raising suspicion when getting the computer etc into the ceiling space. A tall inmate of 1.80-2.05m could easily reach upwards of 2.4m so touch the ceiling tiles without needing to stand on a chair or table. Thus on an ordinary chair be able to not just put a computer up into the ceiling space but run and connect up cables etc in a very short time period.

pfh May 31, 2017 1:33 PM

Prison is generally a dreary, hopeless, dangerous place. God forbid some people figure out a way to use their creative energies in a positive way (establishing contact with loved ones, getting access to the internet).

Yeah, there is going to be porn on a computer in a place where sex is so highly regulated–that’s just human.

Motivated prisoners already have access to illicit cell phones.

The breathless reporting about drugs and explosives is complete 100% garbage. Only articles (probably cached) about these subjects were found. You could say the same thing about anyone accessing Wikipedia. Inmates have standard ways to acquire drugs and weapons not involving computers, and these computers did nothing to further those avenues (no “silk road” accounts).

Yeah, we need to shut down the secret networks. The bad guys will use it for email spam, etc. But maybe we should allow outlets like contact with family, porn, and internet research. Merely warehousing people guarantees violence and mental illness, and probably encourages recidivism.

call girl May 31, 2017 5:21 PM

It’s heartbreaking. These inmates have more freedom in prison than I have on the outside.

@pfh Posted from prison?

The breathless reporting about drugs and explosives is complete 100% garbage.

It depends how you interpret that statement.

Merely warehousing people guarantees violence and mental illness, and probably encourages recidivism.

66 2/3 % true. People need to be allowed to engage in some constructive activity no matter what their circumstances, and develop a realistic achievable plan for success when they get out of prison. And I’m not even talking about anything special beyond a job with a basic income and a place to shut the door and call your own and be able to stay off the streets.

It’s more than I have in any event, but I’m not begrudging it to anyone else. Your working does not in any way, shape, or form contribute to my unemployment or lack of a job. To the contrary: people who work create even more jobs for others. There are other serious societal and governmental problems that need to be solved in the employment market, way above the level of anyone who is actually being let of prison these days.

The whole premise of “mental illness” (mentioned in the same breath as violence and recidivism) is a crock of shit for dealing “meds” and putting away family members who refuse to cooperate with organized crime pimps and bosses. A “mental illness” diagnosis in law is worse than a felony criminal record — not only do employers check that, but they look for arrest records with or without a conviction, or records of being “detained” by police even if no criminal charges were filed, and worst of all, any “police contact” at all.

Not to mention the following lifelong frequent harassment by police officers of arbitrary jurisdictions who constantly ask, “Aren’t you supposed to be on meds? Aren’t you taking your meds?”

Back to the beginning of your comment:

Prison is generally a dreary, hopeless, dangerous place.

So is the rest of the once proud U.S.A. on the outside.

B. D. Johnson June 6, 2017 12:26 AM

I’ve had the opportunity to read the investigation about the Dannemora escape a couple years back so lax prison security policies do not surprise me at all. I’ve literally seen parents provide more security grounding their children than CCF had in place.

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