Berlin's courts: Ancient software is replaced by a 22-year-old program

Suddenly nothing worked at the Berlin Superior Court. In 2019, a virus paralyzed the entire computer system. Unknowns had smuggled in the Emotet Trojan, which made sure that they could tap passwords, for example.

As a result, the entire system had to be shut down and set up again. For that long, judges and employees had to work with paper files like in the old days.

Such things should never happen again. As a consequence of the hacker attack, a project for IT optimization was started in 2020, said Justice Senator Lena Kreck (Die Linke) on Monday at a special joint meeting of the legal and digitization committees. According to State Secretary Daniela Brückner, several outdated program modules are to be replaced this year.

However, this intention existed before the hacker attack in 2019, because the systems are old and prone to failure. An internal risk analysis by the company HiSolutions, commissioned by the administration of justice, shows how IT security is in Berlin’s authorities, especially in the courts.

According to this, some of the 40 programs used by the Berlin judicial authorities are several decades old. Support for the cash register procedure program was discontinued in 2012. Remote access for maintenance is not possible anyway.

Judge: The disturbances can have life-threatening effects

Only last autumn there were four major disruptions within six weeks. The Berlin administration and especially the judiciary could not work for hours and sometimes several days. According to the administration of justice, the disruption was due to the AuLAK program (automation of the district court, district courts and superior court). This brought operations to a standstill after the state-owned IT service center Berlin (ITDZ), which is responsible for the Berlin authorities’ computers, had changed the configurations.

Such mishaps were the reason for an open letter from the judges’ council to the president of the regional court. The letter, which is available to the Berliner Zeitung, says, among other things: “The IT disruptions in judicial activity alone without a complete failure of the IT system in the form of slow, sluggish data processing and the ongoing interruptions (…) add up to an average of one hour per judicial working day.” A complete absence lasting hours or days directly jeopardizes the work of the judge.

It also says, among other things: “If negotiations cannot be carried out as planned because the preparation for the meeting cannot be called up, there is a risk of release from custody.”

And the judges are even more drastic: “If the (…) review deadlines in the accommodation area, for example in the psychiatric hospital or in preventive detention, cannot be met as a result of the IT malfunctions, there is a risk of people who in the past already being literally life-threatening to those around them.”

The ITDZ, which was previously entrusted with providing the IT system, has consistently revealed through the ongoing disruptions occurring in practice that it is not up to the task, writes the judges’ council.

Individual program modules are exchanged

The AuLAK program, which keeps causing this trouble, has been used in ordinary courts in Berlin since 2005 for civil litigation, family, care and insolvency matters, enforcement of personal property, estate and criminal proceedings; it is used by around 4000 users.

According to State Secretary Brückner, several program modules have already been replaced from the AuLAk program, such as that for real estate enforcement. The modernization of the system for the judicial cash register should be completed in August. By the end of the year, the support procedures are to be reprogrammed and, like other modules, replaced by the forumSTAR software.

As can be seen from an earlier response from the State Secretary to a parliamentary question from the CDU in January, the costs for the AuLAK modules still in use will total around 420,000 euros. ForumSTAR is a program from the year 2000 and, according to the opposition, has not been developed further since 2016.

Money is not enough for all measures

On Monday, Justice Senator Kreck emphasized in the committee that more money was planned for IT security – four million more in the budget for this year than last year, namely around 22 million euros. In the coming year it should be 23.6 million.

The control of the IT for the judiciary was brought centrally into their administration, she said. According to their information, this department has twelve employees. Six additional posts are foreseen in the draft budget.

However, the money does not seem to be enough. The contract with HiSolutions expires in the summer. In the joint special session of the two committees, the CDU and FDP wanted to know what the Senate was doing specifically. The opposition demanded a “transparent presentation of the need for action”.

Justice Senator keeps defect report secret

“But there were only generalities and declarations of intent,” says Alexander Herrmann, legal policy spokesman for the CDU. It is now clear that the money is not enough for all the planned measures. This is exactly why the special session was scheduled before the budget was passed next week.

On Kreck’s initiative and with the consent of the coalition, the risk analysis of the company HiSoulutions, which was classified as classified, was also discussed in the special session of the two committees – albeit in camera. The senator argued that IT security outweighed the public’s need for information. For the CDU, this is incomprehensible. Herrmann wants to have it checked whether it is legally correct not to publish this report.

Christopher Förster from the FDP also sees no reason for this opaque action from his point of view. “I wonder if that’s the style we want to work in.” His party colleague Holger Krestel says: “Whether it’s at school, the Citizens’ Registration Office, or the courts; the Senate does not have a good hand when it comes to digitization and the subject of IT.” Berlin urgently needs more professionalism in the management and operation of public IT.

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