- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 13, 2020

A ransomware attack hit the Texas judiciary, forcing the judicial system to improvise to keep its courts functioning online since social distancing restrictions have eliminated many in-person solutions.

Texas’ Office of Court Administration said its information technology staff discovered the attack Friday morning and immediately disabled websites and servers for the Texas judiciary to stop the spread of the attack. The Texas judiciary is working with law enforcement and the Texas Department of Information Resources to investigate the cyberattack.

The Texas judiciary’s network will remain down until a remedy for the ransomware attack is found, the Office of Court Administration said this week. Ransomware is malicious software that requests payment from affected users in exchange for returning access to the data and systems held hostage by the attackers.

“OCA was able to catch the ransomware and limit its impact and will not pay any ransom,” the office said. “Work continues to bring all judicial branch resources and entities back online. In the meantime, a temporary website has been established with critical judicial branch information, including information concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Alongside the temporary websites intended as stopgap measures, the state Supreme Court turned to Twitter to share orders and opinions. Other Texas courts have begun following suit.

The state Supreme Court first posted screenshots of its orders to Twitter on Friday and soon followed with links to the documents via Dropbox, a cloud-based file storage website.

Texas’ Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio followed the state Supreme Court’s lead and tweeted on Tuesday that it would begin announcing each week’s opinions on Twitter every Wednesday morning for the foreseeable future.

The Office of Court Administration said this week it found no evidence that personal or sensitive information was compromised and that the state judiciary’s structure meant that individual trial courts were unaffected by the ransomware. Cloud-based web services for filing documents to the court and reviewing the documents were not affected.

Blake Hawthorne, the Texas Supreme Court clerk, tweeted Tuesday that he envisions someday attempting to share the lessons he has learned keeping the court running.

“I’m sure whoever my replacement is will think I’m a raving paranoid lunatic when I tell them about all the things that can go wrong,” Mr. Hawthorne tweeted Tuesday. “‘Why, when I was Clerk, we had a pandemic and ransomware attack all at the same time!’”

Other state judiciaries and the federal judiciary could face ransomware attacks, and they do not necessarily use the latest digital technology. For example, the Supreme Court overhauled its website in 2017 and added a new electronic filing system.

The nation’s judicial system also has been using videoconferencing platform Zoom to conduct oral arguments and other judicial proceedings despite growing concerns about security. The Texas state Supreme Court conducted its first-ever oral argument via Zoom last month, just before the Department of Defense rejected the use of the platform for its official business because of the safety concerns.

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