The online filing system used by the federal court system was likely breached in the SolarWinds hack, suspected to be orchestrated by Russia, potentially compromising highly sensitive sealed documents that contain nonpublic details about ongoing investigations.
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts revealed an “apparent compromise of the confidentiality” of its case management and electronic case files system “due to these discovered vulnerabilities” and said this week that it was “under investigation.” The federal judiciary is working with the Homeland Security Department on a “security audit” related to the cyberattacks that “greatly risk compromising highly sensitive non-public documents … particularly sealed filings” stored on the online system, adding that “due to the nature of the attacks, the review of this matter and its impact is ongoing.”
The revelation that the federal courts were likely successfully hacked came just after the Justice Department admitted that its email systems had been compromised, though the agency stressed that it believed the number of potentially affected email boxes was limited to 3%, and they had no indication that classified information had been taken.
The judiciary’s administrative office said the federal courts “are immediately adding new security procedures to protect highly sensitive confidential documents filed with the courts,” including that “highly sensitive court documents filed with federal courts will be accepted for filing in paper form or via a secure electronic device, such as a thumb drive, and stored in a secure stand-alone computer system” and “will not be uploaded” to the online system. The office noted that the new practice won’t change current policies regarding public access to court records because sealed records are already confidential “and currently are not available to the public.”
Sealed documents on the court’s online system, such as arrest and search warrant affidavits, can contain a host of sensitive information, and the nonpublic records can include the names of suspects and targets, secret…