Madera County court website hacked, redirects to portal for porn and prostitution

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Madera County's court website is now a portal to pornography and prostitution after hackers took control several days ago.

"What they should be doing right now is just wiping the whole thing," said cybersecurity expert Allan Liska of Recorded Future. "So their old website? They should consider that gone."

It'll be expensive to fix and could be a sign of vulnerability to something even worse.

A run of the mill click of the mouse to access Madera County court records led attorneys somewhere more sinister Sunday.

"Redirected it to the porn/escort website," said defense attorney Mike Mitchell. "I'm guessing. I'm not sure exactly. I didn't spend too much time looking at it to be honest."

"The crazy thing to me is, as of today, it's still not working correctly," said Daljit Rakkar. "It'll still redirect you to the hacked site."

The usual courts website takes you to what seems to be the site for a Turkish escort service.

We asked the cybersecurity expert, Liska, to look into the hack attack and he found at least 36 more websites recently overtaken by the same group.

He says the front page of the escort website doesn't seem to have any malicious content, and it's probably just a ploy to increase their profile on search engines, but it exposes a vulnerability to more serious attacks.

"If you're able to get hit by the low-level guys you're definitely able to get by the higher-level people, including some of the ransomware actors," said Liska.

Ransomware attackers know the importance and necessity of documents on government and healthcare websites, so they take over and hold the sites for ransom.

The presiding judge in Madera County confirms their site is not being held for ransom. He tells Action News they became aware of the problem a while ago and responded by creating a new web address.

But losing the content could create a long nightmare.

"To have somebody just steal your website, it could potentially be the most disastrous thing that could happen for your business," said Mitchell, who has invested years assembling content on his own website. "Pretty much the equivalent of your office burning down."

Liska says this type of hack usually happens when a business or government agency tried to save money by using a cheap website host.

Nobody monitors the website, so nobody is preventing a breech or fixing it quickly when it happens.

"When you compare what the cleanup and reputation costs for this breech is going to be, it's significantly less than that cost," he said.

Attorneys tell Action News the coronavirus crisis has emphasized the importance of being able to check court calendars online, but seeing this on the website gives them pause.

They may not even want to try the court's safe alternative site.

"I'll take your word for it," Rakkar told our reporter. "I think I'm going to avoid the website until it's back up and running."
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