Andrew Welsh-Huggins and Kantele Franko

COLUMBUS: The State Highway Patrol is investigating the apparent hacking of the website for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which said Friday that the unauthorized changes never jeopardized any personal information for department employees or the public.

An unauthorized user made changes embedded in the website’s code to redirect visitors or increase Internet traffic at other sites, department spokesman Matt Eiselstein said in an email. The code changes weren’t visible to the public and have been corrected, he said.

The state began its investigation earlier this week after The Associated Press contacted Natural Resources about unusual activity on an agency website page that outlines rules and regulations for dealing with dangerous wild animals.

Using a web tool that tracks changes to websites, the AP noticed the repeated recurrence of words such as “escorts” and “las vegas” on the site, but not visible on the web, on May 25 and May 26. The AP noticed similar strange activity on the website Wednesday and notified Natural Resources.

“ODNR will work with our state partners to identify the people responsible and take all necessary steps to prevent similar unauthorized access like this from happening again,” Eiselstein said.

The department altered access settings to prevent a recurrence of the problem, and the Department of Administrative Services urged other state agencies to be alert for the possibility of such website hacking.

It appeared that the hacking incident was isolated to the Department of Natural Resources and that other state agency websites were unaffected, Beth Gianforcaro, a spokeswoman for the Department of Administrative Services, said in a statement.

The Department of Administrative Services and Department of Natural Resources technicians are working with the patrol on a criminal investigation, Eiselstein said. It’s not clear exactly when the unauthorized changes originated.