Commerce rapped on infosec lapses

Lawmakers took the Commerce Department to task at an Aug. 3 hearing after auditors testified they found numerous information security lapses on agency systems.

During an investigation into security practices at seven Commerce organizations, "hackers" from the General Accounting Office were able to gain unauthorized access to systems and read, modify and delete sensitive economic, personnel and business data.

Among the data at risk is information related to national security, missile technology and biological warfare residing on systems at the Bureau of Export Administration.

Intruders could disrupt mission-critical systems without being detected, said Robert Dacey, director of information security issues at GAO, in testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

In one case, GAO investigators gained access to a system only to find that a Russian hacker had been there already, without the knowledge of Commerce managers.

"In short, the department simply has no idea whether its sensitive systems are being or have been compromised — a totally unacceptable situation," said subcommittee chairman Rep. James Greenwood.

GAO also found that many systems could be accessed without passwords or were unprotected and that a user on one bureau's network could change the configuration of other bureaus' network controls via the Internet, Dacey said.

Commerce Inspector General Johnnie Frazier said internal audits found similar security holes, but better cooperation should help plug them. Last month, the IG's office signed a memorandum of agreement with the Office of the Chief Information Officer and the Office of Security to share responsibility on Commerce's information technology security issues.

Samuel Bodman, deputy secretary at Commerce, said the problem is more a matter of "management and priorities" and is being addressed. Already, the secretary has given the department CIO authority to guide bureau security plans, he said.

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