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Kansas court officials confirm details of ‘evil, criminal’ international cyberattack

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Preliminary assessment indicates information stolen for use on dark web

TOPEKA — Foreign cybercriminals launched the attack on the Kansas judicial branch’s information system in October and stole records of appellate cases and judicial administration files potentially regarded as confidential under state law, officials said Tuesday.

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Justices of the Kansas Supreme Court issued a joint statement confirming perpetrators “stole data and threatened to post it to a dark website if their demands were not met.” The release didn’t say whether the judicial branch complied with demands of the attackers, nor did it disclose whether evidence existed Kansas court information was forwarded to secretive illicit portions of the web.

“This assault on the Kansas system of justice is evil and criminal,” the justices said. “We express our deep sorrow that Kansans will suffer at the hands of these cybercriminals.”

The release said the judicial branch was the “victim of a sophisticated foreign cyberattack” and ongoing work by experts would identify the scope of personal information stolen. Once the assessment was completed, court officials said, individuals directly touched by the breach would be contacted.

“A full review of what may have been stolen is a high priority, but it will take time,” the justices’ statement said. “This attack on one of our three branches of government was made against all Kansans.”

The statement said the judicial branch was working with computer specialists to buttress judicial branch information systems to defend against comparable attacks.

In wake of the Oct. 12 incursion, district court information systems in 104 of the state’s 105 counties were shut down. Johnson County was immune from this attack because the populous county operated a stand-alone computer information system.

Networks used by the Kansas Court of Appeals and Kansas Supreme Court were invaded and locked down.

Attorneys and judges have had to rely on manual filing of court documents rather than typical electronic filing. Eventually, the judicial branch set up a location at the Kansas Judicial Center in Topeka to allow public access to court documents.

“It will likely take several weeks to return safely to normal operations, including electronic filing, but we will do so,” the statement said.

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Since the breach was reported more than five weeks ago, the judicial branch had released little information about what was assumed to be a criminal attack associated with extortion.

“Cyberattacks on government entities are rampant,” the justices’ statement said. “Cybercrime is a persistent and serious threat to our democratic institutions.”

The justices said their decisions in wake of the assault were guided by foundational values, including dedication to upholding the rule of law.

“By adhering to those values at this profoundly trying time,” the statement said, “we seek to demonstrate that no malicious element is more powerful than the rule of law and the institutions that abide by it.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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