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


Dozens of personalized documents belonging to Lancaster County’s top rated attorney – which include documents relevant to regional Republican Social gathering committees – had been discovered on a county govt laptop community previously this yr, boosting queries about whether or not she executed campaign or other exterior do the job using taxpayer time or assets.

The data files belong to Jacquelyn E. Pfursich, the former clerk of courts who past yr was appointed county solicitor. Pfursich mentioned she unintentionally transferred the documents on to the county’s personal computer community when she applied a own thumb drive in July 2021 to transfer some do the job-linked information as she transitioned into her new role as solicitor.

LNP | LancasterOnline obtained copies of the 85 or so files in problem. They include 55 paperwork related to Pfursich’s political do the job with the county and Hempfield Republican committees, at the very least 13 documents related to outside lawful perform Pfursich executed during many years she was serving as clerk of courts, and 11 documents that had been personal in character, like her children’s report cards. The mother nature of a several other information — these types of as a notice for a wintertime donation travel — is unclear.

At the exact time she served as clerk of courts, Pfursich represented personal legal customers on the facet. She’s also been a longtime leader in the regional Republican Celebration, serving as chair of the Hempfield Region Republican Committee considering the fact that 2016.

The clerk of courts is an elected posture. Elected officers like the clerk are permitted to maintain exterior work while serving in workplace. But Pennsylvania’s Community Officers and Personnel Ethics Act bars elected officers from making use of their workplace for “personal fiscal get.” And the Pennsylvania Point out Ethics Commission, which investigates ethics complaints, has located conducting campaign function and personalized do the job with county methods, these kinds of as a computer system or phone, to qualify as a form of money achieve.

The fee also has to uncover that the exercise was a lot more than a modest achieve. It found in 2017 that a Beaver County commissioner, Joe Spanik, had violated the Ethics Act by directing his secretary at the county to do marketing campaign work for his re-election. She utilized county workplace tools and time she was on the clock to do it.

The commission calculated she used about 17 several hours executing the work, valued at a minimum amount of $415, based mostly on her pay level. He also applied notary solutions from the county valued at $180. Spanik acknowledged an settlement with the fee to fork out $1,000, most of which went to Beaver County.

Information described

The political and particular files belonging to Pfursich have been initial reviewed in general public at a June board of commissioners meeting when Ron Harper, Jr., a Rapho Township guy, claimed he had unearthed proof that Pfursich had misused her business as clerk of courts. Harper has worked the two independently and with Pennsylvania Republicans as an opposition researcher and investigator of political officers.

Internally, the presence of private and political paperwork on the clerk of courts community was very first described to human methods director Michelle Gallo and Democratic county Commissioner John Trescot in a March 31 memo penned by Pfursich’s successor, Mary Anater. Trescot was notified, Anater explained, because he is her office’s selected chief place of get hold of with the total county board of commissioners.

Anater said staff members in the workplace were mindful of the data files but did not immediately alert her to them until finally several months into her tenure, in March. “When staff concerns have been at last raised with me, I reviewed the files, identified they were being in opposition to county policy” and documented them, she stated.

Pfursich claimed she was unaware in the course of that period that the documents, some which contained confidential details of authorized clientele, have been accessible in a shared county pc community.

“In hindsight, I ought to have utilized a contemporary, new thumb push to avoid any accidental transfer of documents,” Pfursich reported. “However, I have in no way employed county pcs or county sources for political uses.”

Pfursich offered LNP | LancasterOnline with an internal memo from the county IT director, Steven Clement, that exhibits he found it possible her transfer of own information to the county’s community was accidental.

“The facts in dilemma was effortlessly identifiable as becoming personal in nature, probably the outcome of an accidental thumb push imprint, and not mechanically deleted all through the standard wiping of facts on prior employees’ transition from the place,” Clement reported in an April 1 memo to the county’s prime administrator, main clerk Lawrence George who oversees the county’s different departments, including IT and human sources.

Per George’s path, IT team eradicated the data files from the shared drive and forwarded them to the chief clerk for storage on a county push tied to his office, he advised LNP | LancasterOnline. Storing the data files on a challenging generate prevented any person with obtain to the county community travel from accessing them.

But he took no more actions to seem more into the make any difference or refer it to an individual else – whether or not an exterior legal professional or other investigative system – and George mentioned he did not contemplate whether the existence of the data files identified as for additional inquiry.

“The to start with objective was to take out all the information and facts that was believed accessible to a person it must not have been accessible to, and my initial thought wasn’t genuinely, ‘Oh, is that heading to taint any type of investigation that may perhaps want to follow?’” George explained.

Ethical considerations

Pfursich’s account of how the documents wound up in the county network and the subsequent response by George and other people raises questions about the county’s cybersecurity procedures and protocols, as properly as how it handles opportunity ethics matters involving elected officials.

Pat Christmas, coverage director at the Philadelphia-centered very good authorities team Committee of Seventy, reported it’s unclear, dependent on a description of the scenario, whether the issue has ethics implications or indicates some sort of breakdown in the county’s HR protocols.

If this was merely a miscalculation by Pfursich, Xmas stated, county officials might want to evaluation the onboarding procedure for county workforce.

“Maybe it desires to be sharpened up to stay away from this form of detail happening in the foreseeable future, maybe teaching around this, as very well as for the people who would administer this kind of a plan,” he stated.

The issue warrants more inquiry, Christmas stated. The community warrants assurance its elected officials are remaining higher than board, he mentioned, specially in an era when religion and believe in in federal government are at all-time lows.

“Even comparatively insignificant infractions or opportunity violations can dent that belief, so that is why, substantively, and with regard to notion, I assume these troubles make any difference,” Xmas reported.

George identified as the problem above Pfursich’s data files “unprecedented.”

“Thankfully, this does not arrive up quite normally. In reality, I’m not mindful of any occasion definitely in my occupation,” George mentioned. But he acknowledged the county should have clearer processes for related conditions.

In an e mail, Trescot, the Democratic commissioner, claimed he would aid owning a much better outlined cause for examining opportunity ethics issues and building recommendations for motion.

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

Before remaining very first elected as clerk of courts in 2015, Pfursich worked as assistant county solicitor.

Existing plan

By way of an open up data ask for, LNP | LancasterOnline acquired a copy of Lancaster County’s IT stability coverage. Last up-to-date in June 2021, it does not expressly forbid buyers of the county process from employing outside thumb drives or placing county documents on to a personal product, as Pfursich discussed was her intention.

It does say that customers “should shop function files and info on cloud-base storage, alternatively than on product hard drives or USB storage devices, as cloud-centered storage gives improved security than the possibilities.” They also will need to make sure those people storage equipment are scanned for viruses just before becoming used.

LNP | LancasterOnline attained Lancaster County’s IT security plan as a result of an open data ask for.

Other language in the coverage appears to exempt elected officers from the insurance policies hired workers have to follow. The plan language expressly states that it applies to “all people with granted licensed access,” but an asterisked be aware says elected officers employing the procedure “are responsible for their personal steps.”

Trescot claimed the plan about elected officers relates to the reality that they are not county personnel. “The county govt does not employ the service of or fireplace elected officers,” he reported.

Working with formal methods for campaign operate can operate afoul of Pennsylvania’s “theft of services” statute. But a prosecution beneath that statute would most likely demand evidence of a persistent sample of working with county assets for non-formal company.

George explained to LNP | LancasterOnline that his response followed county processes, but it created an unintended consequence of dropping file facts that could’ve been aspect of a deeper inquiry.

Clement, the county IT director, did not respond to a call or e mail relating to that plan and regardless of whether deleting the data files from a shared push eradicated the potential to do a deeper forensic evaluation of how and when the personalized information wound up on the county community.

An incapability to review the history of computer system action by county officials would point out important technique deficiencies, explained Daniel Castro of the Data Engineering and Innovation Basis, a Washington, D.C., consider tank that focuses on cybersecurity and privateness concerns.

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

And to enable consumers to copy or transfer county files to a device exterior the IT method, or at all, was also questionable, Castro stated.

“These are officials for whom chain of custody truly matters – for files, who has obtain to items, you want robust audit logs. This all just sort of indicates weak IT in common and IT safety,” Castro said. “That is form of troubling.”

Team writer Carter Walker contributed to this story.

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