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Website For Clerk Of The Circuit Court Of Cook County Was Reported As Being Down For 'Maintenance;' It Turned Out Servers Were Breached

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Officials said breach on the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court's office website did not expose anyone's personal information – but an expert said it still had the potential to cause big problems.

The breach even sent users to, of all places, an NFL site.

The Circuit Court Clerk's office didn't come clean about it until CBS 2's Jackie Kostek started digging – and got to the truth.

For 13 days, the website of the Circuit Court of Cook County clerk has been down for "maintenance." But that wasn't the whole story.

According to Clerk of the Circuit Court Iris Y. Martinez, "unusual" activity was found "on its server that supports its website" In a news release issued Thursday afternoon, the clerk of court site was redirected users to a "NFL-related site." The site was not identified.

"To be clear, we had a breach that was very limited in scope and duration," said Patrick Hanlon with the Circuit Court Clerk's office.

Hanlon said on Friday, Aug 13, the website was breached. It was "caught quick," he said, and the site was brought down.

"There is no ransomware, no data, applications - anything impacted in regards to people's data," Hanlon said.

That's the good news.

But CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller said the site being down is causing people across Cook County major issues.

"The public should be able to get easy access to their own records," Miller said.

Miller said the website is the main access point for anyone who have an open case across any of the Circuit Court's many divisions. Without access to the website and in turn information on their case, people could find themselves in a bind.

"You could be missing a court date," Miller said. "In a criminal case, if you don't show up for a court date, there could be a warrant for your arrest."

Kostek: "Is there anything being done to prevent people from potentially having a default judgment happen in their case because they can't access any information, they don't know when their next court appearance is?"

Hanlon: "If you have an attorney, the licensed attorney can actually go through the digital access portal for their own cases and see everything."

If you don't have an attorney and want to monitor your case yourself, Hanlon said to email or call the numbers listed on the home page.

"You give them your name or your case, they can tell you where we're at," he said. "Also, Zoom information is provided as well."

Meanwhile, an official with the clerk's office says they have beefed up staffing on phone lines. However, many have complained about not being able to get through.

Kostek: "Tell me one thing. Have you ramped up resources of people who are manning those phones because we have heard from several people that they're calling, they're waiting on the line for minutes, they're not getting through to anyone?"

Hanlon: "Minutes is unfortunately expected. But more than minutes is - I'd want to know that."

As for when the site will be back up, Hanlon said the updates could take two to three weeks to complete - but certain divisions may come online sooner than others.

"I'd prefer security and protection, and make sure it's done right," he said.

Cook County is working with the Bureau of Technology and the County's Information Security Office, the Circuit Court Clerk's Office with the ongoing investigation.

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We'll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

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