Interior sites stay unplugged

About 13 months after a federal judge ordered the Interior Department to shut down its computer systems because of security concerns, about 6 percent remain disconnected from the Internet, according to an Interior report issued Feb 3.

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 offices of the Solicitor and 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.

On the whole, 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.

The department also made other, bigger strides. 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 reconnection proposal 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 [are] slowly improving," department officials wrote.

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