The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Online outage cripples U.S. court system

(Warner Bros.)

The federal court system was hit with a denial-of-service attack struck by technical problems Friday afternoon that brought several government Web sites to a halt. PACER — the site for accessing the electronic court filing database — as well as and various other Web sites belonging to federal courts around the country, were affected by the outage, officials said.

Among the downed sites was that of the Middle District of Florida, which was unavailable for about four hours.

PACER administrators posted a service advisory warning that some visitors may have trouble accessing the service.

Aggrieved lawyers and other observers took to Twitter to complain about the outage, which kept many from meeting filing deadlines and retrieving records.

An e-mail obtained by Politico suggests that some in the government believe this to be a "national cyberattack." That said, experts generally reserve the word to describe malicious actions that put critical systems in danger — not acts of online vandalism, as denial-of-service attacks tend to be known.

Neither the Justice Department nor the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts immediately replied to calls for comment Friday.

Update: The Wall Street Journal reports the incident was the result of a technical error, not a cyberattack.

Late update: A spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts reiterated Saturday it believes the outage was the result of a malicious attack. The FBI, which had previously blamed the incident on an internal glitch, said Saturday it was "reassessing" its initial analysis. Meanwhile, a group calling itself the European Cyber Army claimed responsibility on Twitter for the breakdown: