September 27, 2023


Digitally first class

Cybersecurity and ethics questions surround computer files found in Lancaster County office | Local News


Dozens of private information belonging to Lancaster County’s prime lawyer – which includes paperwork connected to regional Republican Bash committees – had been found on a county government personal computer community previously this 12 months, raising questions about irrespective of whether she done campaign or other outside the house operate utilizing taxpayer time or sources.

The data files belong to Jacquelyn E. Pfursich, the former clerk of courts who very last yr was appointed county solicitor. Pfursich reported she unintentionally transferred the data files onto the county’s pc community when she employed a particular thumb drive in July 2021 to transfer some perform-associated files as she transitioned into her new purpose as solicitor.

LNP | LancasterOnline acquired copies of the 85 or so files in concern. They contain 55 documents related to Pfursich’s political do the job with the county and Hempfield Republican committees, at minimum 13 information associated to outside authorized operate Pfursich conducted during decades she was serving as clerk of courts, and 11 documents that have been individual in nature, like her children’s report cards. The nature of a couple other data files — these types of as a observe for a winter donation push — is unclear.

At the similar time she served as clerk of courts, Pfursich represented personal legal shoppers on the aspect. She’s also been a longtime chief in the area Republican Occasion, serving as chair of the Hempfield Area Republican Committee because 2016.

The clerk of courts is an elected situation. Elected officials like the clerk are permitted to maintain outdoors positions while serving in business office. But Pennsylvania’s Public Officials and Staff Ethics Act bars elected officers from applying their workplace for “personal monetary attain.” And the Pennsylvania Condition Ethics Fee, which investigates ethics complaints, has identified conducting campaign operate and particular work with county sources, these as a personal computer or phone, to qualify as a form of financial acquire.

The fee also has to obtain that the action was a lot more than a small get. It identified in 2017 that a Beaver County commissioner, Joe Spanik, had violated the Ethics Act by directing his secretary at the county to do campaign work for his re-election. She utilized county place of work gear and time she was on the clock to do it.

The commission calculated she spent about 17 hours accomplishing the do the job, valued at a minimum amount of $415, centered on her fork out price. He also applied notary companies from the county valued at $180. Spanik approved an agreement with the commission to pay $1,000, most of which went to Beaver County.

Data files noted

The political and personalized files belonging to Pfursich have been very first talked about in general public at a June board of commissioners conference when Ron Harper, Jr., a Rapho Township man, claimed he had unearthed evidence that Pfursich had misused her business as clerk of courts. Harper has labored both independently and with Pennsylvania Republicans as an opposition researcher and investigator of political officials.

Internally, the presence of personalized and political files on the clerk of courts network was very first claimed to human assets director Michelle Gallo and Democratic county Commissioner John Trescot in a March 31 memo composed by Pfursich’s successor, Mary Anater. Trescot was notified, Anater claimed, due to the fact he is her office’s specified main position of get hold of with the in general county board of commissioners.

Anater mentioned staff members in the place of work were informed of the data files but did not promptly alert her to them until eventually a number of months into her tenure, in March. “When workers issues were being lastly elevated with me, I reviewed the documents, determined they had been in opposition to county policy” and reported them, she mentioned.

Pfursich mentioned she was unaware during that interval that the information, some which contained confidential details of authorized purchasers, had been obtainable in a shared county personal computer network.

“In hindsight, I should have employed a contemporary, new thumb push to steer clear of any accidental transfer of data files,” Pfursich explained. “However, I have never ever employed county personal computers or county sources for political functions.”

Pfursich provided LNP | LancasterOnline with an interior memo from the county IT director, Steven Clement, that displays he found it probable her transfer of own files to the county’s community was accidental.

“The info in question was very easily identifiable as staying particular in nature, possible the consequence of an accidental thumb travel imprint, and not instantly deleted during the common wiping of data upon prior employees’ transition from the placement,” Clement stated in an April 1 memo to the county’s best administrator, main clerk Lawrence George who oversees the county’s several departments, such as IT and human methods.

For each George’s course, IT workers removed the documents from the shared drive and forwarded them to the chief clerk for storage on a county drive tied to his business, he advised LNP | LancasterOnline. Storing the data files on a hard push prevented anybody with obtain to the county community drive from accessing them.

But he took no extra measures to look even further into the make a difference or refer it to an individual else – no matter whether an outdoors legal professional or other investigative body – and George said he didn’t consider no matter whether the existence of the documents identified as for further more inquiry.

“The 1st aim was to remove all the details that was considered available to an individual it should not have been available to, and my first believed was not genuinely, ‘Oh, is that going to taint any form of investigation that may well need to have to observe?’” George mentioned.

Moral things to consider

Pfursich’s account of how the data files wound up in the county community and the subsequent response by George and other people raises queries about the county’s cybersecurity procedures and protocols, as nicely as how it handles opportunity ethics issues involving elected officers.

Pat Xmas, plan director at the Philadelphia-centered good federal government group Committee of Seventy, mentioned it’s unclear, based mostly on a description of the problem, whether or not the make a difference has ethics implications or signifies some type of breakdown in the county’s HR protocols.

If this was simply just a oversight by Pfursich, Xmas reported, county officers may perhaps want to overview the onboarding process for county workforce.

“Maybe it wants to be sharpened up to stay away from this form of matter taking place in the long term, probably teaching all-around this, as very well as for the people who would administer this kind of a coverage,” he said.

The make any difference deserves even further inquiry, Xmas explained. The community justifies assurance its elected officers are being over board, he stated, primarily in an era when faith and rely on in authorities are at all-time lows.

“Even somewhat minimal infractions or prospective violations can dent that belief, so that’s why, substantively, and with regard to notion, I believe these difficulties subject,” Xmas explained.

George known as the situation more than Pfursich’s files “unprecedented.”

“Thankfully, this does not arrive up very frequently. In actuality, I’m not aware of any occasion surely in my profession,” George reported. But he acknowledged the county must have clearer techniques for equivalent conditions.

In an email, Trescot, the Democratic commissioner, stated he would assist owning a greater defined trigger for examining probable ethics matters and producing suggestions for action.

Republican commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino, who have political ties to Pfursich and voted for her appointment to solicitor in July 2021 more than objections from the Democratic commissioner at the time, Craig Lehman, did not react to the exact same concerns.

Prior to getting initially elected as clerk of courts in 2015, Pfursich labored as assistant county solicitor.

Present policy

By means of an open data request, LNP | LancasterOnline received a duplicate of Lancaster County’s IT protection plan. Very last updated in June 2021, it does not expressly forbid users of the county technique from applying exterior thumb drives or placing county paperwork onto a individual gadget, as Pfursich defined was her intention.

It does say that end users “should store function paperwork and information on cloud-base storage, alternatively than on gadget tough drives or USB storage equipment, as cloud-centered storage gives much better security than the alternate options.” They also need to make certain those storage units are scanned for viruses prior to remaining applied.

LNP | LancasterOnline attained Lancaster County’s IT safety plan by way of an open records ask for.

Other language in the policy seems to exempt elected officers from the policies hired workforce have to observe. The plan language expressly states that it applies to “all folks with granted approved accessibility,” but an asterisked observe says elected officials working with the system “are responsible for their possess steps.”

Trescot claimed the plan regarding elected officers relates to the actuality that they’re not county staff members. “The county governing administration does not seek the services of or fireplace elected officers,” he explained.

Making use of official methods for marketing campaign operate can operate afoul of Pennsylvania’s “theft of services” statute. But a prosecution under that statute would possible require evidence of a persistent sample of employing county means for non-official organization.

George informed LNP | LancasterOnline that his response adopted county techniques, but it made an unintended consequence of getting rid of file info that could’ve been element of a deeper inquiry.

Clement, the county IT director, did not respond to a get in touch with or e-mail relating to that coverage and no matter if deleting the documents from a shared push eradicated the potential to do a deeper forensic examination of how and when the particular information wound up on the county network.

An lack of ability to review the background of laptop exercise by county officers would suggest big system deficiencies, explained Daniel Castro of the Information and facts Technologies and Innovation Basis, a Washington, D.C., think tank that focuses on cybersecurity and privateness concerns.

IT units have occur to depend on “audit logs” to overcome viruses and ransomware assaults, Castro explained. The logs maintain observe of who accessed what file or method and when, and what they did with it, Castro stated.

And to make it possible for consumers to duplicate or transfer county paperwork to a product outdoors the IT system, or at all, was also questionable, Castro explained.

“These are officers for whom chain of custody truly issues – for files, who has access to points, you want potent audit logs. This all just kind of indicates bad IT in normal and IT security,” Castro stated. “That is type of troubling.”

Workers writer Carter Walker contributed to this tale.

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