Philadelphia City Court System Finally Starts Coming Online Again After Month's Battle With Malware - NBC 10 Philadelphia

Philadelphia City Court System Finally Starts Coming Online Again After Month's Battle With Malware

Philadelphia's court websites and e-filing system have been down since May 21

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    What to Know

    • Philadelphia's court system went dark digitally after malware infected its online websites.

    • The city court system has been offline since May 21, forcing paperwork to be filed and requested the old-fashioned way: in person.

    • Other cities have also been hit in recent weeks by malware and hackers, including some Florida cities that actually paid hackers.

    The digital court filing systems for Philadelphia's First Judicial District are slowly coming back online, the court said in a statement Monday.

    The city courts have been without online systems for more than a month, forcing lawyers, legal aides and residents to have to file paperwork the old-fashioned way: by hand and in person at City Hall and the Criminal Justice Center in downtown Philadelphia.

    After some fits and starts, two of the city courts' divisions, the Civil and Orphans' courts, have finally been brought back online, the First Judicial District said.

    "We appreciate your patience as our IT Dept. continues their work to restore criminal case electronic filing and the ability to purchase subpoenas electronically," the court system said in an emailed statement. "Please note that subpoenas may still be purchased in Rm. 296 of City Hall."

    Philadelphia is one several cities that have been struck by computer viruses. In May, Baltimore City Hall servers were infected by ransonware, a nefarious subset of malware. That attack cost the city an estimated $18.2 million, according to the Baltimore Sun.

    More recently, two Florida cities actually opted to pay hackers to relinquish control of local government websites.

    For weeks since malware struck the system and forced officials to shut it down, Room 296 and other offices in City Hall where court paperwork is processed have been swamped with actual people.

    For years, much of the court's back-end business has been made quicker and easier by digital filing — but not for the last month.

    Philadelphia city court websites were first shut down after malware was found on a “limited number” of First Judicial District computers, according to court officials last month.

    “It’s terrible,” West Philadelphia resident Tyree Moment said in early June as he waited to file court papers. “There is no clear direction what to do.”

    As a precaution, the Philadelphia court online system went completely dark on May 21. Its entire electronic filing system for civil and criminal cases and several email accounts were suspended. That is the same system used by attorneys to file motions and petitions. It’s also the same network people use to access their criminal filings.

    Trying to access court websites resulted in a timeout for web users. Only online criminal dockets remained accessible while cyber security experts worked to fix the problem. 

    The entire remediation process was shrouded in darkness, as officials declined to comment "so as not to provide any detail-specific information that could jeopardize the remediation process."

    E-filing for civil cases has been around for eight years, and about half that time for criminal matters, according to the First Judicial District. Many law firms and lawyers have gotten used to doing things online. But since May, clerks and attorneys must shuffle between City Hall and their offices several times a day.

    "It’s really making an impact," Philadelphia lawyer Glen Morris said in June. "Obviously, it’s difficult to leave one's office and come down to City Hall and to have to file like we did 20 years ago."

    Residents are advised to check the official Philadelphia courts Twitter account for updates. On Tuesday, new URLs for paying traffic tickets were provided and can be accessed here. The Philadelphia Sheriff’s Department is also tweeting updates