Justice Apologizes For Iowa Court System Authorizing Security Vulnerability Testing That Led To Break-Ins

Justice Apologizes For Iowa Court System Authorizing Security Vulnerability Testing That Led To Break-Ins

At a legislative hearing Friday, court administrators answered questions about their decision to hire “penetration testers” who were arrested for burglary last month.

The chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court publicly apologized Friday for the court system’s authorization of security vulnerability tests that led to the arrests of two Coalfire employees for courthouse break-ins. 

The state senate’s Government Oversight Committee held a hearing to hear testimony about the break-ins at the Dallas and Polk County courthouses in September. According to reporting from The Des Moines Register, the Coalfire employees were following through on a contract signed by Iowa court system officials hiring them to test the “adequacy and effectiveness” of security at government buildings. 

"In our efforts to fulfill our duty to protect confidential information of Iowans from cyberattacks, mistakes were made," Chief Justice Mark Cady said during the hearing. "We are doing everything possible to correct those mistakes, be accountable for the mistakes and to make sure they never, ever occur again." 

Now, information technology officials with the state court system say that the employees, who were able to gain access to two courthouses over the course of two nights, acted outside of the scope of the contract. 

The Iowa court administration hired the company to test for cybersecurity vulnerabilities and "did not intend, or anticipate, those efforts to include the forced entry into a building," according to a statement given to the Register last month. 

In turn, local law enforcement were not warned about the break-ins and responded to an alarm at the Dallas County courthouse as if it were a real burglary. While the two employees arrested for third-degree burglary are free and there are no proceedings scheduled for their cases, legislators and local police say that the situation was dangerous for all involved. 

Legislators will continue their investigation until more facts are gathered, according to Sen. Amy Sinclair, the chair of the committee.  

"It is outside the scope of the judicial branch to authorize individuals to illegally break into facilities that they neither own nor provide security for," she told the Register. 

Todd Nuccio, the state court administrator, said that the contract had not been reviewed by a legal team and that oversight steps will be considered in the future, according to the Register. Sen. Claire Celsi told the Register that the court’s shrinking budget may have played a role, leading to them signing the contract and take the most “efficient” route. 

"It’s faintly disturbing that a contract of this magnitude was allowed to move forward without further review from someone higher up the food chain maybe," Celsi said. 

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