Anyone who has worked in an office through the era of both physical paperwork and digital filing knows that the latter process is far superior. Managing documents online is faster, easier, and (in theory) more secure.
Unfortunately for the Philadelphia court system and the people who live in the city, this is not the case. Since May 21, the entire court system has slowed to a grinding halt due to a malware attack. As a result, lawyers are filing important documents by hand while home foreclosure postponements continue to fall through the cracks.
With no end in sight, this destructive infiltration demonstrates the risks of insufficient network security and the harm hackers can cause in today’s digital world.
No Filing Here
The malware attack, which originated on just a few computers, essentially blocks access to the court’s online filing system. As the issue is currently under investigation, officials are keeping details under wraps. A private cybersecurity firm has been enlisted to help remediate the damage incurred and secure the system against future invasions.
As a precaution, the court system has shut down its filing system, email server, and website. These measures have forced workers to revert to the days before technology. Unfortunately, the actions have created problems far beyond doing manual paperwork.
For example, people trying to move through the court system have been subject to long lines. They are also walking through walls of filing boxes that are piling up in the court building.
Furthermore, the malicious software intrusion has also affected the jury process. With no email servers and a limited workforce, the court system has enlisted creative methods to keep up. In a somewhat comical turn, they have excused jurors from duty via Twitter.
Big Picture Worries
While the filing system being offline results in major headaches for the court system itself, the malware attack also has people worrying about more significant issues. Namely, citizens are afraid that their private data will fall into the wrong hands.
Meanwhile, the housing law division of the court is under massive pressure to continue processing foreclosure postponements by hand. This provision allows people to temporarily stop a bank from selling their home while they fight the foreclosure. Since the electronic systems are unavailable, filing postponements has not been a priority.
Furthermore, the Philadelphia Unemployment Project has stepped in to try and halt foreclosures until systems are up and running. However, a judge blocked the motion, and lenders are still proceeding with foreclosures.
With no timetable on network restoration, it will be slow going in Philly for now.
Philadelphia’s outage follows a virtual siege on the city of Baltimore by a similar cyber attack. Both instances prompt questions about whether other local court systems and government offices have enough cybersecurity. Perhaps now is the time for cities to start upgrading and investing in ways to keep their networks safe.