Interior security flagged again

A month after getting permission to reconnect some of its sites to the Internet, the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service is back in the hot seat.

MMS has once again caught the attention of court-appointed Special Master Alan Balaran for failing to protect individual American Indian trust data. Balaran had approved the partial reopening of the sites.

MMS receives royalty money from companies that extract minerals from lands held in trust. The revenues totaled almost $10 million last year and more than $120 billion since the agency's inception in 1982.

During the past month, IBM Corp., working as a consultant to Balaran, found potential inadequacies in information security during four visits to state tribal accounting offices managed by MMS, according to the special master. "I share IBM's concern that there may exist a lack of protocols securing royalty data and that, in reaction to the court's orders, individual Indian trust data has simply been migrated from one insecure system to another," Balaran said in an April 30 letter to Justice Department attorney Sandra Spooner.

MMS went off-line as part of an Interior-wide shutdown ordered by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in December after a computer security firm hacked into the department's systems. IBM's on-site observations included seeing machines with trust data operating on state-controlled -- rather than federally controlled or standalone -- networks.

"The state networks all have Internet connections, the security of which is unknown," Balaran said. He has requested a meeting with computer security experts and government officials to discuss the matter.

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