The US federal court system suffered a major cybersecurity breach in 2020, House Judiciary chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler revealed in a public hearing on Thursday.
During the hearing, which focused on oversight of the Department of Justice National Security Division, Nadler said the House Judiciary Committee learned about the “startling breadth and scope of the courts document management system security failure” in March 2022.
“The federal court system faced an incredibly significant and sophisticated cybersecurity breach, one which has since had lingering impact on the department and other agencies,” Nadler said.
In January 2021, shortly after it came to light that a significant number of organizations were targeted by Russia-linked threats actors through the products and systems of IT management firm SolarWinds, the Administrative Office of the US Courts said an investigation had been launched into an ‘apparent compromise’.
While the statement suggested that the potential compromise was linked to the SolarWinds attack, Nadler said that statement actually referenced an incident discovered in early 2020.
The congressman expressed concern about “the disturbing impact this security breach had on pending civil and criminal litigation, as well as on ongoing national security or intelligence matters.”
Matt Olsen, assistant attorney general for national security, could not provide specific information about the incident when questioned by Nadler during the hearing, but did suggest that an investigation is ongoing. Nadler wanted to know how many cases were impacted by the breach.
Several lawmakers said they wanted to learn more about the incident from the federal judiciary following Thursday’s disclosure.
When it announced launching an investigation after the SolarWinds breach came to light, the judiciary said it had started rolling out additional safeguards to protect sensitive court records, including requiring sensitive documents to be submitted on paper or via a thumb drive to be stored on an air-gapped system.
It’s not uncommon for cybersecurity incidents to impact state and local court systems in the United States. In the past two years, several incidents have been reported, including in Alaska, Arizona, Illinois and Texas.
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