GAO unearths computer security weaknesses at NASA

Many of NASA's mission-critical information systems are vulnerable to attack, and almost all the systems do not meet the agency's own requirements for risk assessment, according to a General Accounting Office report released today.

In tests conducted by GAO at one of NASA's field centers, experts were able to penetrate several mission-critical systems, including one responsible for calculating the positioning data for spacecraft.

"Having obtained access to these systems, we could have disrupted NASA's ongoing command and control operations and stolen, modified or destroyed system software and data," the report states.

GAO attributed much of the success of the attacks to NASA's lack of consistent information security management and policies as suggested by GAO's 1998 Executive Guide. And although NASA performed a special review of its information security program last May that found many of the same problems identified by GAO, few of the recommended fixes have been started, according to the report.

GAO recommended that NASA put in place an agencywide security program addressing five areas: assessing risks and evaluating needs; implementing policies and controls; monitoring compliance with policy and effectiveness of controls; providing computer security training; and coordinating responses to security incidents.

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