The Minnesota judicial branch's website was unavailable to the public for several days in late December because of outside attacks aimed at overwhelming its system, according to information released by the state Friday.

The "distributed denial-of-service" (DDOS) attacks were primarily launched from Asia and Canada, said a statement from State Court Administrator Jeff Shorba that did not discuss a possible motive.

The website visited by thousands every day looking to access court resources and information, www.mncourts.gov, was down for several hours from Dec. 21 to 31.

"In a DDOS attack, an outside entity attempts to overwhelm an online resource with so much network traffic that it is no longer accessible to legitimate users," said Shorba's statement. "During these attacks, the Minnesota Judicial Branch did not experience any form of data breach or inappropriate access to court records, nor is there any evidence to suggest that the attackers attempted to gain access to Judicial Branch records or information."

The attacks were reported to the federal government and Canadian authorities.

According to Shorba's statement: The website was attacked on Dec. 8, 21 and 31. After the second attack, state court administration limited outside access to the website so safeguards could be installed to protect the site from future attacks. The move prevented additional attacks, but staff monitoring the situation saw that attackers were keeping tabs on the site "seemingly trying to determine when they would be able to launch another DDOS attack."

The website was made publicly available on Dec. 31, and immediately experienced another attack. But, Shorba said, the new safeguards permitted the public to access the website during the attack.

"According to investigatory agencies and industry experts, DDOS attacks are becoming increasingly common against high-profile websites in both the public and private sectors," Shorba said. "While we cannot prevent these attacks from being launched, the Minnesota Judicial Branch is now better prepared to respond to these types of attacks in the future."

State courts were not affected by the web attacks, Shorba said. Judges and court staff were able to access case information, and the public was able to access documents and records, pay fines and conduct other business with the court.

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