“It is a crisis. There’s no question about that,” Floyd County Superior Court Clerk Barbara Penson said about the malware attack that took down the eCourt case management system across Georgia.
The state Administrative Office of the Courts has declined to release a consolidated list of the affected courts for security reasons. But Floyd County is among the pilot jurisdictions for the new system.
Penson said records for 1,589 civil cases were affected when hackers disabled the state system July 1, and “an equal amount or more” of the criminal cases also were rendered inaccessible.
When the county went online with the eCourt system Feb. 1, the initial idea had been to eliminate all hard-copy files. Luckily, her office continued to file all the scanned papers.
“Some of the affected courts no longer have hard-copy files, but we do,” Penson said. “I guess I can thank our retired chief judge Walter Matthews, who told me some years ago that as long as he was on the bench he would have a hard copy in his hands.
“I had considered going paperless but, knowing what I know now, I don’t think I ever will,” she added.
The AOC has federal and state cyber experts trying to regain control of the encrypted files. Spokesman Bruce Shaw said early on that the hackers had asked for contact information for a ransom. But state officials told Penson and other local court officers last week that no demand had been sent.
In the latest update, on Thursday, the AOC said they’ve established a new network and they’re trying to repair and recover websites and online applications, one by one.
“Each application must undergo an extensive security threat assessment, which is a slow and painstaking process to ensure we identify and eradicate any potential existing threat,” the release stated.
An online child support calculator for the juvenile courts was expected to be re-established Friday. Officials said it appeared no data had been lost. However, the application was still inaccessible Saturday night.
Floyd County Magistrate Court also is affected. Chief Magistrate Gene Richardson said cases are getting scheduled, but his clerks are entering all the information by hand into the old — and nearly obsolete — Sustain system.
“I hope the people of Floyd County will understand it’s going to take us a little longer to do things,” Richardson said. “We’ve got to go pull the paper file ... You get spoiled. You get spoiled.”
Some probate courts also are affected, but Lisa Horton, Floyd County’s probate court clerk, said they use a different data management system.
“Each department chooses their own and we’re extremely happy with the one we have. Even more so now,” Horton said.
It’s unclear when, or if, any of the hacker-encrypted data for the eCourt case management system will be recovered in usable form.
Penson said her staff put in at least 12,000 hours worth of work, scanning documents and indexing them, before the system went live. Now everything between Feb. 1 and June 30 will have to be redone, including online payment information – which may be lost.
“People worked long and hard to get this new software up and running. We thought we were at the point where we would have a little breather, but it was not to be,” Penson said with a sigh. “I wish I could compensate them for their dedication and loyalty.”
As of last week, Penson said she didn’t know if any additional resources would be available from the state or the county. And, to top it off, the hack happened at the height of vacation season when a number of staffers – including County IT Director LaSonja Holcomb – were out.
But Penson said staff from the judges’ offices are pitching in and the courts are running on schedule.
“It’s going to be years before we get this completely sorted out. But we’re all certainly aware that, while it may be a piece of paper in our hand, it’s a piece of someone’s life,” Penson said.