The U.S. Justice Department is investigating a cyber breach involving the federal court records management system, the department’s top national security attorney told lawmakers on Thursday.
Matt Olsen, head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, alluded to the threat of cyber attacks by foreign nations as he told the U.S. House of Representative Judiciary Committee that the incident was a “significant concern.”
Olsen made the remarks in response to questions from Representative Jerrold Nadler, the panel’s Democratic chairman, who said that “three hostile foreign actors” had attacked the courts’ document filing system.
Nadler said the committee learned only in March of the “startling breadth and scope” of the breach. Olsen said the Justice Department was working closely with the federal judiciary around the country to address the issue.
“While I can’t speak directly to the nature of the ongoing investigation of the type of threats that you’ve mentioned regarding the effort to compromise public judicial dockets, this is of course a significant concern for us given the nature of the information that’s often held by the courts,” Olsen said.
Olsen did not comment on who was behind the attack, but he noted that his division was focused generally on the risk of cyber attacks by foreign nations like China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in January 2021 said it was adding new security procedures to protect confidential or sealed records following an apparent compromise of its electronic case management and filing system.
The Administrative Office, the judiciary’s administrative arm, in a statement on Thursday called cybersecurity a high priority and said it has been taking “significant actions to protect our systems and the sensitive information they contain.”
Further details could not be immediately determined. A Justice Department spokesman said the department as a general policy does not confirm or deny the existence of specific investigations.
The federal judiciary has been working to modernize its electronic case management and filing system and the related online portal known as PACER, which is used to access records, citing the risk of cyber attacks on the aging electronic system.
“We are vulnerable,” U.S. Circuit Judge Amy St. Eve testified at a House committee hearing in May on the judiciary’s budget request.