OMB: Security incidents jumped in 2007

Agencies reported twice as many information technology security incidents in fiscal 2007 compared with the year before. The number of incidents in six categories reached 12,986, compared with 5,146 in 2006, the Office of Management and Budget said. One of those categories, unauthorized access, jumped to 2,321 in 2007 from 706 the year before, OMB said in its report to Congress that was released today. It contains the results of how agencies strengthened information security and privacy protections under the Federal Information Security Management Act.

The increase in unauthorized access is due mainly to reporting required now for all instances where personally identifiable information may have been revealed, the report states. Although OMB is concerned by the increase in incident reporting, it’s not altogether a bad thing, said Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator for e-government and information technology.

“It’s a good thing because agencies are sharing the information with [the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team] the way they’re supposed to so we can take action in a comprehensive way,” she said in a briefing call with reporters. She expects that use of secure identification cards required under Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 will help reduce security incidents because the cards provide two-factor authentication.

Agencies improved incrementally the certification and accreditation of their systems and testing of their contingency plans and security controls in fiscal 2007. Agencies should focus this year on completing testing of all their operational systems, providing oversight of contractor systems and improving reporting of security incidents, the report states.

Agencies have certified and accredited 92 percent of systems in 2007 compared with 88 percent the previous year and 47 percent five years ago, the first year of reporting, OMB said in its report. The governmentwide goal was 90 percent for 2007. NASA increased by 18 percent the number of systems it has certified and accredited, the most improved agency performance. The Defense Department repeated its 6 percent increase from last year.

As an incentive to improved reporting, OMB has added beginning in budget year 2009 the evaluation by the agency inspector general of the quality of the agency’s certification and accreditation process in assigning projects and investments to OMB’s Management Watch List. The Health and Human Services Department and U.S. Agency for International Development rated the highest for quality in 2007; the Defense Department was the worst.

Agencies also should further concentrate on reducing systems in the FISMA inventory that have no risk impact level category. Agencies reported a total of 10,304 systems categorized by their risk impact level of high, moderate, low or not categorized, OMB said. It is important to know if systems have a high risk impact because they may be critical to the agency’s mission, Evans said. Of the 10,304 total systems, 1,211 were ranked with a high risk impact. Of those, agencies had certified and accredited 95 percent of them and tested 97 percent for security controls, which means they have prioritized their security needs. But only 77 percent have contingency plans that were tested, the report said.

Agencies need to provide employees and contractors with more general and job-specific security training. Agencies reported an overall decrease in the percentage of employees receiving security awareness training, from 91 percent in 2006 to 85 percent in 2007. Training for employees with significant information security responsibilities increased, however, from 86 percent to 90 percent.

To further embed IT security, agencies are preparing to move to a common security configuration when they upgrade to the Microsoft XP and Vista operating systems. Agencies are testing these configurations in a nonproduction environment to identify adverse effects on system functionality. They are also implementing and automating enforcement when using this configuration and ensuring that new acquisitions use these configurations.

The Information Systems Security Line of Business, led by the Homeland Security Department, identifies common security processes and technologies to improve security, reduce costs and increase efficiency. Last November, 12 agencies began using security awareness training provided by the shared-service centers, the Defense and State departments and the Office of Personnel Management. Thirteen agencies began using FISMA reporting services provided by the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Agencies will fully report the number of employees trained under the ISS LOB in the fiscal 2008 FISMA report, OMB said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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