IG: DHS makes progress on FISMA

The Homeland Security Department received a failing grade for security in 2005, but recent progress in implementing an agencywide information security program may finally get it out of the compliance basement.

According to a recent report by DHS’ inspector general, department officials have taken several steps toward meeting Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) requirements. That includes updating policies on systems certification and accreditation, improving wireless communication and configuration management, and expanding guidance for handling sensitive but unclassified systems.

However, DHS is not completely out of the woods. For every area of progress, the IG also listed issues that the department still must address.

For example, although DHS now requires certification and accreditation of sensitive but unclassified systems, the IG found that 27 of 35 systems have incomplete accreditation packages, with some critical information missing from various security documents. Without it, DHS cannot make credible risk-based decisions on whether to authorize the system to operate, the IG said.

In another instance, the IG identified six Citizenship and Immigration Services systems in which at least one security objectives did not match the security plan.

The IG also reported that several DHS agencies did not satisfy baseline security configurations, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Preparedness Directorate.

Tests on various systems, including laptop PCs, radio frequency identification technology and Transportation Worker Identification Credential systems, revealed inadequate password controls, patch management concerns and configuration management problems.

DHS has not yet implemented a departmentwide program for information technology security awareness training.

In response to a congressional request, DHS has implemented a departmentwide plan to certify and accredit its operational systems. The IG added that the department is taking corrective measures to eliminate other problems.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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