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Kansas’ chief justice blames Russian ransomware hackers for disabling court’s electronic systems | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

TOPEKA — Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Marla Luckert said Wednesday in an address to the Kansas Legislature the state didn’t pay ransom demands of a Russian-based cybercriminal group that infiltrated the judicial branch’s computer system in October to force a temporary return to an old-school, all-paper process of handling cases.

The judicial branch’s backup computer system limited damage of the assault that included theft of data, Luckert said in the annual State of the Judiciary speech to members of the House and Senate. Implementation of hardware and software fortifications and policy changes allowed the state court’s centralized case management system to go online in the past week, but the electronic case filing portions of the system have yet to be reactivated.

“The past several months have been an extraordinary education for our state,” Luckert said. “One lesson is that we are stronger when all three branches of government come together to work on issues that confront our state, including strengthening and protecting our electronic governmental infrastructure from cyberattacks.”

In a post-speech interview, Luckert said the court refused to meet ransom demands that she characterized as a “moving target.” She said the cost to the state of the computer system shutdown and adaptation of new security methods hadn’t been fully tabulated.

“They attacked one of the foundational institutions of our democratic society — one of the three branches of our government,” Luckert said. “These criminals acted against all Kansans, our state and our democratic institutions.”

The forensic audit would yield names of people victimized by theft of personal information and those individuals would be notified of that breach, she said.

Information services staff in the Office of Judicial Administration began troubleshooting an apparent network outage the morning of Oct. 12, but learned servers housed at the Kansas Judicial Center in Topeka were inaccessible. The decision was made to limit lateral movement of malware in the network by disconnecting judicial branch systems across the state from external access, Luckert said.

Reliance on the hand-to-hand paper system for three months created a backlog of information that has yet to be uploaded into the court’s electronic system, she said.

“Though we’d initially hoped for a swift recovery, we learned from our experts that we could not just clean and restore our systems,” she said. “We had to carefully fortify them because, once hacked, the likelihood of another attack increases.”

In terms of the judicial system’s fiscal year 2025 budget proposal to the Republican-led Legislature and Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, Luckert said a plea was made for a cost-of-living salary increases for non-judge employees. She said the proposal was designed to prevent erosion of progress made the past couple years in bringing judicial branch salaries closer to market levels.

She also recommended lawmakers make a priority of investing in new cybersecurity positions allocated to the judicial branch.

Luckert said elements of state government came together in 2022 to consider ways of addressing mental health challenges faced by people who enter the court system. An outgrowth of that summit was opening of new mental health specialty courts and expansion of outpatient treatment programs, she said.

“These evidence-based courts promote recovery and reduce harmful behavior, hospitalization and emergency room use,” Luckert said. “Redirecting these individuals to long-term solutions also reduces costs by breaking the cycle of repeat interactions with the justice system.”

She said new military veteran treatment courts opened last year in Leavenworth, Sedgwick and Shawnee counties. In 2024, the Kansas Department for Children and Families and the district courts in Miami, Lyon and Cowley counties would pilot family treatment courts to focus on child abuse or neglect cases in which parental substance use was a factor.

Luckert said elements of state government were collaborating to find solutions to the shortage of attorneys and other justice resources in rural portions of Kansas. People involved with the Rural Justice Initiative met in 2023 and were working to prepare a reform plan, she said.


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