Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady apologized and took full responsibility last week when he appeared before a legislative committee investigating the break-ins at courthouse and the court system’s own state-owned building as part of what has been termed a “cybersecurity vulnerability test.”
The legislative investigation parallels the judicial branch’s own independent investigation of what led to two cybersecurity workers breaking into the Dallas County Courthouse after midnight on Sept. 11. The two workers were arrested after an alarm was triggered. The two men were charged with third-degree burglary and possession of burglary tools. The two men gave deputies who responded to the alarm contract documents signed by state court officials and claimed they were hired to check courthouse vulnerabilities.
At first blush, it appears the security system test proved its value.
Dallas County Sheriff Chad Leonard offered a different — and clearly valid — viewpoint.
“It’s Sept. 11, you know, and two unknown people in a courthouse (in the middle of the night),” he said. “It could have ended very poorly. We could have ended up with five deputies getting investigated for potentially killing two people at a courthouse.”
Senators on the committee criticized several judicial branch administrators appearing before them for developing and signing contracts that were not properly vetted by a lawyer for inconsistencies or errors. They also expressed concerns that local officials were not first notified that a security test was planned.
Sen. Tony Bisignano called it a “covert stupid operation” that put law enforcement officers and the men involved in the break-ins at risk.
Information technology employees at the judicial branch said they believe the men exceeded the boundaries of the contract, which was intended to test security of electronic access to court records, not forced entry into a building.
While cybersecurity is vital in this day and age, it still requires the application of plain, old common sense.
Fortunately, the embarrassment to the court system came with a valuable lesson. But the lesson could easily have turned sour with disastrous results.