Philly Court Web Server Outage Enters 3rd Week

PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Web servers in the Philadelphia courts remained down indefinitely Tuesday, with the internet outage entering its third week due to what court officials called a “virus intrusion.”

The outage, which began on May 21, has completely barred access to the courts’ website and the online civil docket, leaving attorneys unable to e-file lawsuits and preventing plaintiffs, defendants and the public from checking the status of any cases online.

According to the First Judicial District (FJD), which has been updating the public on the status of the systems via its Twitter page, the entire system was shut down as a precaution after malicious software was found “on a limited number of FJD workstations.”

The court says it is working with the city’s Office of Innovation and Technology as well as a private cybersecurity firm “to fully review and clean all operating systems.” Officials have declined to offer a definitive explanation of what went wrong, however, and cannot provide an estimate of when things will be back up.

“We are currently unable to provide more information concerning this virus so as not to provide any detail-specific information that could jeopardize the remediation process we are engaged in,” the FJD wrote in a May 31 press release, its latest on the incident.

Locally, court employees and others have speculated on whether the shutdown is similar to a May 7 attack in Baltimore where hackers used ransomware to hack into systems containing billing data for municipal services.

Court officials have acknowledged the outage was not caused by “a data breach or a ransomware attack,” but did not offer any other details.

In the meantime, the waiting game continues for attorneys needing to access the system to file lawsuits, motions or petitions – some of which seek emergency relief from judges – or to look up documents.

Though the courts do accept paper filings in their e-filing department at City Hall, hard copies of documents are becoming rarer as most attorneys prefer to use the online system to file. But the outage has forced law firms back to the era of couriers and paper trails, at least for the foreseeable future.

And with the outage dragging from May into June with no end in sight, the courts’ e-filing counters remain packed. On Tuesday afternoon, the line of couriers and law firm employees waiting to file documents snaked out the door and into the hallway.

When asked about her firm’s experience with the return to paper filing, a woman at the end of the very long line said, “I can’t talk about it.”

Mum was the word both for people affected by the virus and those responsible for fixing it: The City of Philadelphia Office of Innovation and Technology did not respond to a voicemail requesting comment on the status of the system detox and reboot.  

Though the virus has knocked out web service and disabled court employees’ email accounts, the courts themselves remain open throughout the outage, with trials going on as scheduled.

Prospective jurors are still expected to report, the court said, though the courts’ online check-in system is inaccessible and people must contact the Jury Commission by phone to find out if they still need to serve or with any other questions. 

Docket entries from criminal courts, meanwhile, remain visible because they’re linked to a statewide system. Citizens may also view criminal dockets and filings in person in Philly’s downtown Juanita Stout Criminal Justice Center. 

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