'User's manual for hackers'

An internal memo so sensitive that it has been called a "user's manual for

hackers" describes at least 18 vulnerable spots in computer systems at the

Department of Veterans Affairs.

VA information system security is so weak that it is a target for unauthorized

access and destruction of data, Richard Griffin, the VA's inspector general,

said at a May 11 hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Committee's Oversight

and Investigations Subcommittee.

Among the problems are old passwords belonging to employees who left

government four or five years ago, according to sources. Two months ago,

the VA instituted a policy of changing passwords every three months and

using passwords that include both characters and letters. But that may not

be enough to prevent hacking.

Last week, the "love bug" attack hit more than a dozen government agencies

and forced the VA to shut down its e-mail system for 24 hours, disabling

communications with VA hospitals across the country, Griffin said.

Joel Willemssen of the General Accounting Office, who also testified,

gave the VA a barely passing grade for its computer system. Among the problems

Wil-lemssen cited:

* The VA has not implemented a departmentwide computer strategy.

* Its master veterans record project (Vets-net) is not operational.

* The department cannot account for the $1 billion its spends each

year on information technology.

"In short, they can't balance the books," said the subcommittee chairman,

Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.).

The VA has "wasted hundreds of millions of dollars," Everett said. "Its

performance departmentwide is completely unacceptable. You just couldn't

get away with it in the real world."

The VA is seeking $1.4 billion for IT in fiscal 2001, an increase from

$1.2 billion in fiscal 2000.

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