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When technology harms

July 13, 2020

She took steps to protect herself before dropping off the device, deleting social media and banking apps. Upon collecting the repaired phone, she was shocked to discover an employee had texted himself sensitive documents from her phone. The California incident is not the first time this has happened; a month prior, in Park City, Utah, a Verizon store employee was convicted for texting himself sensitive documents from a customer’s phone. Equally disturbing was the discovery that Apple’s Siri system was storing encrypted emails in a hidden file in an unencrypted format even when the Siri function was turned off. And then there is the Facebook bug on iPhones that turns on the rear camera when the user is scrolling through their newsfeed.

While these events are concerning for the public at large they are even more concerning for the court community. Consider a judge scrolling through their newsfeed at their desk while taking a break, liking photos of their grandkids, the confidential briefs they were reading just moments before still out on their desk. Or what about the law clerk whose iPad fought gravity and lost so she has to drop it off at the Apple store to have it shipped off for repair, unaware that her emails with the judge concerning the draft opinion in a case that could have a major impact on the stock market are hiding in an unencrypted file.

Nor are these threats merely hypothetical. A July 13, 2020 report in Politico's Morning Cybersecurity delved into the threats courts are facing.

This week, for the first time in nearly two months, the Texas Office of Court Administration is expecting to be able to start posting case filings online again. The reason? A ransomware attack locked its networks in May, and the courts have been working to recover ever since.

These and other new security issues the courts must face are constantly emerging. To help keep the courts informed the National Center for State Courts brings court personnel from all around the world for biannual conferences where judicial branch members come together to discuss their own experiences as well as hear from experts. At the summer meeting of the National Association of Court Management, guest presenter Mark Lanterman educated attendees on the dangers of the dark web in addition to an eye opening demonstration on just how much of our personal information is available on the web. This fall’s Court Technology Convention offered an equally compelling presentation titled How I Almost Lost My Job discussed the influx of ransomware attacks. The most important takeaway from this presentation was to not pay the ransom if your court is attacked because paying the ransom funds the attackers and gives them reason to come back.

Has your court had a near miss with a ransomware attack? Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest and share your experiences.

For more information, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.