Education financial info at risk

"Education Information Security: Improvements Made but Control Weaknesses Remain"

An important Education Department system that supports the department's core financial management functions still contains serious weaknesses that put grants and other financial information at risk of unauthorized access and disclosure, the General Accounting Office announced last week.

In the past, Education's inspector general has reported serious information system control weaknesses in the department's Central Automated Processing System (EDCAPS), and the department has made progress in addressing those weaknesses, GAO said in a letter Sept. 12 to the House Education and the Workforce Committee's Select Education Subcommittee.

However, GAO still has "identified weaknesses that place critical financial and sensitive grant information at risk of unauthorized access and disclosure, and key operations at risk of disruption," the agency reported.

Specifically, GAO found that the department has not fully:

* Protected networks from unauthorized users.

* Managed user IDs and passwords.

* Limited access to all authorized users.

* Maintained system software controls.

* Monitored user access activity routinely.

For example, about 18,800 users have access privileges that allow them to modify the database and put EDCAPS information at risk, GAO said. The department also has not provided adequate physical security for its computer resources or effectively controlled changes to its applications, GAO found.

The report said a major reason for Education's security weaknesses was the lack of a fully implemented computer security management program.

GAO recommended that Education plug the weaknesses it cited and implement a departmentwide computer security management program.

In a response to the findings, William Hansen, the Education Department deputy secretary, agreed with GAO's recommendations and said the department has already developed a corrective action plan. It is also increasing security management staff, plans to use contractors for "subject matter expertise" and is moving forward with annual intrusion-detection testing, he wrote.

However, Hansen stressed that Education has already made "significant accomplishments" in information security and that the department is not "particularly vulnerable to attack" nor is its financial data easily accessible to the public.

"Sensitive financial data is protected from public access with rigorous external protection of the network," he wrote.

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