DHS IG details wireless weaknesses

DHS Inspector General report: Inadequate Security Controls Increase Risks to DHS Wireless Networks

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Inadequate security policies and procedures, coupled with insufficient oversight, have left the Homeland Security Department's wireless networks vulnerable to hackers, according to a report by the department's inspector general.

The report states that as DHS' wireless technology grows in usage, so do security risks, such as electronic eavesdropping or theft of sensitive data.

Specifically, DHS' information technology security policy doesn't address Bluetooth, a wireless technology built into many laptop computers, wireless phones, personal digital assistants, printers and

other peripheral devices, according to the report.

Additionally, a DHS handbook, which outlines procedures for implementing the department's IT security program requirements, does not incorporate the

National Institute of Standards and Technology's security management practices and controls for maintaining and operating a secure wireless network, the report states.

The report also indicates that the National Wireless Management Office, established more than a year ago to oversee DHS' wireless technology functionality, is primarily focused on land

mobile radio systems and is not fulfilling its responsibilities.

"Incomplete wireless policy, the issuance of weak implementation guidance and inadequate management oversight may result in sensitive data that cannot be effectively protected," the report states.

Peter Lindstrom, research director for Spire Security LLC, based in Malvern, Pa., said that a policy doesn't necessarily reflect the relative strength of a network's security.

"I don't condone the lack of policies, but I also would hate for folks to overreact [and think] that the fact that a policy doesn't exist means that the system is insecure," he said.

John Pescatore, vice president for Internet security research at Gartner Inc., said government agencies are not far behind the private industry in developing policies.

"If [the inspector general's office] looked at 75 percent of private industry, they'd be issuing the same report," he said.

DHS officials could not be reached for comment, but the report states that they have taken steps or proposed action on the report's five recommendations.

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A better defense

The Homeland Security Department inspector general's recommendations for improving DHS' wireless security communications include:

Security policies should define conditions and limitations for using wireless technologies.

The National Wireless Management Office should ensure that wireless programs reflect department goals.

DHS should implement standardized configurations for wireless technologies.

Each departmental system should be completely certified and accredited.

Source: Homeland Security Department inspector general

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