Hired hacker invades VA
- By Judi Hasson
- Sep 21, 2000
A private security company hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs'
inspector general broke into VA computer systems to show that the agency
needs to work harder on securing sensitive data, according to testimony
delivered to Congress today.
The audit, by PricewaterhouseCoopers, found numerous weaknesses in the
firewalls at the Veterans Benefits Administration and the Veterans Health
Administration, where confidential health and benefits records are stored.
"The security problems VA faces are serious," said Rep. Corinne Brown
(D-Fla.), ranking member on House VA Committee's Oversight and Investigations
Subcommittee. "They represent an open door to the U.S. Treasury."
In testimony prepared for delivery to subcommittee, assistant IG Michael
Slachta Jr. said the holes in the VA's security system make the agency's
programs and financial data "vulnerable to destruction, manipulation and
fraud," Slachta said.
Among the weaknesses, he said:
* Passwords were not changed often enough, and words were used that
could be easily guessed.
* Physical security at the main computer room was inadequate.
* New employees were not properly trained.
Security problems continue to exist because the VA has not implemented
an integrated security management program, and the VHA has not effectively
managed computer security at its medical facilities, according to Joel Willemssen,
director of the civil agencies information systems at the General Accounting
"Financial transaction data and personal information on veterans' medical
records continued to face increased risk of inadvertent or deliberate misuse,
fraudulent use, improper disclosure or destruction," Willemssen said in
his prepared testimony.
However, "It wasn't all bad news," VBA chief information officer K.
Adair Martinez said during the hearing today, "There were two [real] hacking
attacks last week on the VBA system, and they were both detected and prevented."
This is not the first time that the VA has been criticized for lax security.
For several years, Congress has complained that the VA has not taken the
right steps to protect electronic data and failed to properly track the
more than $1 billion it spends each year on technology — a requirement of
the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act.