Alaska court system forced offline by cyberattack

The Alaska Court System (ACS) was forced to temporarily disconnect its online servers this week due to a cyberattack that installed malware on their systems, disrupting virtual court hearings. 

According to a statement put out by the ACS on Saturday, the court’s website had been taken offline and the ability to search court cases had been suspended while it worked to remove malware that had been installed on its servers and in order to “stop any additional incursions.”

The ACS noted that it was working with an undisclosed cybersecurity company to investigate the breach but stressed that no confidential documents, employee information or credit card information had been compromised.

“It is unclear when the courts will reconnect to the internet,” the ACS wrote in the statement, which also appeared Monday on its temporarily disconnected website home page. “The court system is committed to continuing operations while remedying the cybersecurity incident.”

Other activities that may be impacted by the ACS taking its website offline include the ability of the public to view court hearings over Zoom, online bail payments, submitting juror questionnaires and sending or receiving emails to or from an ACS email address.  

The court system noted that all currently scheduled jury trials would continue as planned, along with emergency hearings on critical issues. 

“I think for a few days, there may be some inconveniences, there may be some hearings that are canceled, or some judges who decide to shift from videoconference to teleconference proceedings or the like. We don’t have all of that figured out yet,” Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger, the court system’s top administrative officer, told the Anchorage Daily News on Sunday. 

Bolger told the publication that only a “handful” of the ACS’s 3,000 computers had been impacted by the malware and that the ACS did not yet know the “motivation of the hackers.”

The ACS did not state which hackers were behind the attack. 

“The court system IS team caught the malware very quickly, and we believe they have avoided any permanent damage,” the ACS tweeted Sunday. 

Cyberattacks have massively increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, with hackers taking advantage of critical daily services being forced online and aging vulnerable systems coming under strain as a result. Government agencies at the state and local level, along with schools and hospitals, have been regular targets. 

The federal government has also faced attacks, with the SolarWinds hack, carried out by Russian hackers for months in 2020, compromising nine federal agencies prior to discovery in December. 

The U.S. federal judiciary was among the victims. U.S. Courts put out a statement in January confirming that its case management system had suffered an “apparent compromise” due to vulnerabilities linked to the hack of IT group SolarWinds.

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