IG: Interior's networks weren't secure in 2008

The Interior Department apparently experienced a significant cybersecurity leak in January 2008 that transmitted departmental information to countries hostile to the United States, according to a previously unreleased report by the department’s inspector general, Earl Devaney.

The report was released to the public April 1 in a filing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The filing is related to a lawsuit filed by American Indians against the department. Federal Computer Week obtained a copy of the report, which was completed in May 2008.

According to the report, an outside expert was hired by the department in January 2008 after a staff professional reported highly suspicious patterns for network traffic leaving the department.

The expert found that the department transmitted Social Security numbers over unprotected networks for about two hours in January 2008. “While, perhaps, there is a business case for the transmission of this data, it should never be transmitted in the clear over a potentially hostile network environment,” the report quotes the expert as saying.

Also, a large portion of the department’s overall network traffic in January 2008 was bound for countries known to be hostile to the United States, the report states.

“According to the department's own analysis, nearly 70 percent of the network traffic leaving the department through a single one of its Internet gateways during the month of January 2008 was bound for known hostile countries,” the IG wrote.

“The department lacked the capability to even determine what the traffic was,” the report states. “If it had not been for a lone security professional stumbling across anomalous traffic patterns through happenstance, the department would not even have known nearly 35 percent of all network traffic leaving the department's network was bound for non-U.S. recipients — some of whom are known to be hostile to the U.S.,” the report states.

“Given the current environment — as documented by the department's own outside expert — it is unfathomable anyone could give assurance the department's network is secure,” Devaney wrote.

“The department's management of information technology is ineffective, costly, wasteful, and lacks accountability,” he wrote. “Sweeping reform is required to correct deficiencies in the department's IT program.”

In March 2009, President Barack Obama named Devaney to lead the Recovery and Reinvestment Act Oversight Board.

Interior officials did not respond to a request for comment today.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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