Interior offices still disconnected

About 6 percent of the Interior Department's computer systems remain disconnected from the Internet, nearly 13 months after a federal judge ordered a departmentwide shutdown citing security concerns, according to a Feb. 3 Interior report.

Several of the systems support the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Office of the Special Trustee (OST), agencies that rely on information technology to fulfill the department's trust fund duties. The Office of the Solicitor and the Office of Hearings and Appeals also are off-line.

"The computer/Internet shutdown continues to be a burden," Interior officials wrote in their 12th status report to the court, one in a series of updates required by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth. "As a result of the computer disconnect, some work has been substantially delayed, which impacts on the entire trust management system."

BIA employees, for instance, have yet to be granted permission to reconnect e-mail and Web servers, according to the latest update.

Overall, the reporting period — Oct. 1, 2002, through Dec. 31, 2002 — saw little increase in Internet connectivity, with some of BIA's administrative and OST's stand-alone PCs coming back online. The Minerals Management Service's Herndon, Va., location also was plugged in.

Strides were made, however. In December 2002, for example, Interior officials began monthly scans of all the department's Internet connection points and wide-area networks for the top 20 basic security vulnerabilities. And OST officials submitted a proposal to reconnect to the special master, a court-appointed investigator. The request was pending at the end of the reporting period.

"Although system security weaknesses are still present, the relative security and integrity of Interior's computer systems is slowly improving," officials wrote.

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