Virus-related shutdown of Philadelphia courts website has lasted almost four weeks and counting

By Nicholas Malfitano | Jun 14, 2019

Philadelphia City Hall  

PHILADELPHIA – For well over three weeks, the City of Philadelphia website governing electronic filing and viewing of case dockets for the local court system has been offline due to a virus – and the City is not offering much about the matter.

The website has been disabled since May 21, when the First Judicial District announced that a “limited” number of its computers had been infected with a virus and it shut down the network as a precautionary measure. The court said the virus was “not a data breach, nor a ransomware attack.”

“The First Judicial District continues to work closely with the City Office of Innovation and Technology to ensure the safety of our systems after being alerted of potential malware,” according to a statement from the district released late last month.

“As a precautionary measure the First Judicial District website, employee email accounts, and electronic filing (e-file) have been temporarily suspended. While there is no definitive timetable for when systems will be fully operational, IT professionals are working diligently to restore services.”

The Philadelphia court system released no other information on the virus itself, with the institution saying disclosure would jeopardize efforts to repair the computer network. However, it was revealed that a private and undisclosed firm had been retained by the City in the effort to get the network back up and running.

“We are currently unable to provide more information concerning this virus so as not to provide any detail-specific information that could jeopardize the remediation process we are engaged in. In addition to the City Office of Innovation and Technology, the First Judicial District is contracting the services of a firm specializing in cybersecurity to assist in getting impacted operations restored safely,” according to a follow-up statement from the First Judicial District.

Representatives for the court have kept mum on the identity of the firm hired to repair the web network and the amount they’re being paid for that task. Spokespeople for the court did not respond to multiple efforts from the Pennsylvania Record to ascertain the answers to those questions.

Philadelphia City Councilman Brian O’Neill recently requested formal hearings to determine if Philadelphia and its technological infrastructure is able to withstand the types of malware/ransomware attacks and functionality issues that other cities and governments like Baltimore and Atlanta have experienced in the recent past.

The financial cost to recover from the cyber-attack in Baltimore stood at $18 million, and Philadelphia’s Office of Innovation and Technology was earmarked for an increase in funding of $10 million in Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed budget for next year.

While access to criminal dockets is still available due to that network being located on a statewide system housed outside of the First Judicial District, access to civil court case dockets and files for citywide courts is still out of reach.

Meanwhile, all courts in Philadelphia remain open, attorneys are filing their documents by hand and submitting them in person at City Hall (as was customary prior to the electronic filing and docketing network being made available in 2008) and citizens who received notices to appear for jury duty should continue to appear, the First Judicial District said recently.

A modicum of progress was achieved last week, when court personnel received access to their email accounts from remote computers. But as to exactly when the court’s full web network receives restored capability, that remains to be seen.

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nick.malfitano@therecordinc.com

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