Security

US court system suffered 'incredibly significant attack' – sealed files at risk

Effects still being felt today across US government


The United States' federal court system "faced an incredibly significant and sophisticated cyber security breach, one which has since had lingering impacts on the department and other agencies."

That quote comes from congressional representative Jerrold Lewis Nadler, who uttered them on Thursday in his introductory remarks to a House Committee on the Judiciary hearing conducting oversight of the Department of Justice National Security Division (NSD).

Nadler segued into the mention of the breach after mentioning the NSD's efforts to defend America against external actors that seek to attack its system of government. He commenced his remarks on the attack at the 4:40 mark in the video below:

The rep's remarks appear to refer to the January 2021 disclosure by James C. Duff, who at the time served as secretary of the Judicial Conference of the United States, of "an apparent compromise" of confidentiality in the Judiciary's Case Management/Electronic Case Files system (CM/ECF).

That incident may have exploited vulnerabilities in CM/ECF and "greatly risk compromising highly sensitive non-public documents stored on CM/ECF, particularly sealed filings."

Such documents are filed by the US government in cases that touch on national security, and therefore represent valuable intelligence.

The star witness at the hearing, assistant attorney general for National Security Matthew Olsen, said the Department of Justice continues to investigate the matter, adding the attack has not impacted his unit's work.

But Olsen was unable – or unwilling – to describe the incident in detail.

However, a report in Politico quoted an unnamed aide as saying "the sweeping impact it may have had on the operation of the Department of Justice is staggering."

For now, the extent of that impact, and its cause, are not known.

The nature of the vulnerability and the methods used to exploit it are also unknown, but Nadler suggested it is not related to the SolarWinds attack that the Judiciary has already acknowledged.

Olsen said he would update the Committee with further information once that's possible. Representatives in the hearing indicated they await those details with considerable interest. ®

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