DOT faces new security challenges in 2007

Risk analyst says process improvements could lapse if Congress relaxes oversight

Audit of DOT's Information Security Program (PDF)

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The Transportation Department must do more to secure its air traffic control system while protecting other information technology systems as the department consolidates its IT operations, according to the latest DOT inspector general’s report. A risk analyst familiar with the report, however, said the IG’s findings are positive because they show that DOT has improved its procedures for identifying security vulnerabilities.

DOT’s implementation of the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 is maturing, said Paul Proctor, research vice president of the security and risk group at Gartner. IG officials are evaluating the right criteria, and federal information systems security is improving, he said.

DOT’s IG officials are focusing their reviews on the process of risk management, which means they are looking at the procedure that IT managers use for assessing IT security on an ongoing basis, Proctor said. “This is a substantial step ahead from what they might have done before,” which was mainly patch management and penetration testing. “The fact that they are making any improvement is impressive” because information security is such a complicated matter, he added.

But Proctor said lawmakers must pressure DOT to continue improving its IT security program.

“If Congress lets go, DOT will slide back,” he said. “The moment they say [DOT has] done enough is the moment DOT will go spend money on other things.”

Todd Zinser, DOT’s former acting IG, wrote that fiscal 2007 will be a particularly challenging year for DOT in managing its IT security and investments. The agency will relocate all DOT divisions except the Federal Aviation Administration and the Surface Transportation Board to a new campus in southeast Washington, D.C. During the transfer, 75 information systems will move.

As part of the transition, DOT centralized each division’s IT infrastructures including e-mail, desktop computing and local-area networks, into a common operating environment. According to the IG, that consolidation will enhance efficiency but also create new complications because any disruption could potentially affect multiple divisions instead of only one.

The schedule for implementing and testing this new infrastructure is still evolving because of move-related problems, the report states.

Separately, DOT will maintain the air traffic control system, which President Bush designated a national critical infrastructure. The IG criticized the department for not delivering on previous promises to fix weaknesses in the air traffic control system’s infrastructure. For several years, the FAA has promised to review vulnerabilities on all operational systems and develop contingency plans for restoring essential air services in case of an outage.

Although a system failure would not cause planes to collide in the air, a prolonged outage could bring business travel and tourism to a halt, Proctor said.

The IG noted progress in the areas of tracking, prioritizing and correcting security weaknesses, which were major IG concerns last year. DOT also improved management of its IT investments by granting more spending authority to the department’s Investment Review Board.

DOT’s Office of the Chief Information Officer reviewed a draft of the IG report and orally concurred with the findings and recommendations, according to the final report.

DOT officials said last week that the department is drafting work plans and outlining resource requirements to make additional improvements to secure the national air traffic control system. DOT expects to provide the IG with a written response to the report by Nov. 22.
Lawmakers review IG report

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Aviation Subcommittee, is still reviewing the latest report from the Transportation Department inspector general on DOT’s information security program, Mica spokesman Jim Coon said.

“I do not anticipate a hearing as we have limited time remaining in this session of Congress,” Coon said. “Obviously, it is important that our air traffic control system is secure, and I feel confident that Congress will work with the FAA on this issue.”

Republican Senate sources said they are waiting until DOT comments before responding to issues that the IG raises in the report.

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