Federal judiciary 'vulnerable' to cyberattacks, U.S. lawmakers told

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U.S. District Judge Roslynn Mauskopf and U.S. Circuit Judge Amy St. Eve testify before the U.S. House of Representatives' Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government in Washington, D.C., on May 12, 2022. U.S. House of Representatives/Handout via REUTERS

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  • Judiciary requesting $403 million in supplemental funding for cybersecurity
  • Judiciary has seen "sharp increase" in cyberattacks, judge says

(Reuters) - Two federal judges on Thursday warned a U.S. Congressional panel that the judiciary's aging computer systems are "vulnerable" to cyberattacks, creating a risk that hackers could obtain confidential material or draft court decisions like the U.S. Supreme Court abortion opinion leaked earlier this month.

The testimony came during a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives' Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government concerning the federal judiciary's $8.6 billion budget request for the 2023 fiscal year.

The judiciary is also seeking $403 million as a lump-sum, supplemental appropriation to fund a multi-year IT security and modernization project, which U.S. Circuit Judge Amy St. Eve said is critical after years of under-investing in cybersecurity.

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"We are vulnerable," said St. Eve, a member of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and chair of the Judicial Conference of the United States' budget committee.

While St. Eve said she would not detail those vulnerabilities in a public setting, U.S. District Judge Roslynn Mauskopf, the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, noted there had been a "sharp increase" in cyberattacks targeting the judiciary.

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

Mauskopf said that while the judiciary is not alone in needing to modernize its systems, it is a repository "for some of our nation’s most sensitive law enforcement and national security information," which needs protection.

She emphasized that point after Republican Representative Steve Womack of Arkansas asked about the judiciary's ability to guard against leaks like that of the U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion showing the court is poised to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that protected abortion rights nationwide.

"Our systems house draft opinions," Mauskopf said. "That's another category of very sensitive, pre-decisional information that we house within our systems, which is yet another reason why we need to take steps to modernize our systems."

The judiciary said its request for $8.6 billion in discretionary funding for the 2023 fiscal year represents a 7.2% increase from 2022 levels.

It includes a request for $786 million for court security, an 11.5 percent increase the judiciary says is warranted following an increase in threats facing federal judges and acts of vandalism targeting federal courthouses nationally.

Read more:

U.S. judiciary receives big security funding boost in spending bill

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.