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Judiciary Cites Draft Opinion Theft Fears in Bid for Cyber Funds

May 12, 2022, 6:45 PM

Ensuring the security of draft opinions is one reason why federal courts need more money to improve cybersecurity and modernize information technology, a judiciary official said.

Roslynn R. Mauskopf, director of the Administrative Office of the US Courts, told the House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee on Thursday that draft opinions fall into a category of “very sensitive” information.

“We are a system of systems, and our systems house draft opinions,” Mauskopf said in response to a question about protecting lower court drafts from being compromised as a leaked US Supreme Court draft decision suggests the Supreme Court could soon overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

“It’s another reason for why we need to take steps to modernize our systems and to ensure that those types of controls are put in place,” she said of security of draft opinions at the lower court level.

Mauskopf didn’t connect the leak now under investigation to any compromised Supreme Court computer system or any cyber breach.

But the judiciary said in a budget document on the latest data that judiciary cyberdefenses blocked more than 43 million attempted attacks from reaching local area networks of US federal courts in 2020, nearly double the number from the previous year.

“I cannot overstate the gravity of the broad impacts across our society of cyberattacks on the judicial branch,” Mauskopf said. “These attacks pose risks to our entire justice system and more broadly are an attack on our democracy itself.”

The judiciary is requesting a budget of $8.6 billion for fiscal 2023, which is a 7.2% increase from the previous fiscal year. The judiciary says it needs the additional funds to keep up with inflation and boost courthouse security, cybersecurity, and modernize information technology.

In a question from subcommittee Chair Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) about the need for cybersecurity, Mauskopf reiterated the pressing need for the funding and pointed to the sensitive nature of the information the judiciary handles.

“We the judiciary are the repository of some of our nation’s most sensitive law enforcement and national security information in the cases that get filed within our courts,” Mauskopf said. “We also know that we’re vulnerable.”

Seventh Circuit Judge Amy St. Eve, who is chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Budget, said the judiciary briefed members of the subcommittee’s leadership on worsening threats to federal courts physical and cyber security but couldn’t share the details of those conversations in full at the hearing.

In January 2021, the judiciary reported it experienced a cyberattack related to the SolarWinds hack that affected both the public and private sector.

A review of its system conducted by the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency after that attack “highlighted several serious judiciary cybersecurity vulnerabilities that, collectively, pose significant threats to the security and integrity of judiciary IT systems,” the judiciary disclosed in its new budget request.

“The judiciary’s cyber-defenses must be strengthened to address these vulnerabilities and confront growing threats,” it said in a budget justification document for its IT fund.

For cybersecurity alone, the judiciary is requesting $102.5 million in appropriations, which is $5 million more than the last year’s assumed amount.

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at malder@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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