Agencies encrypt less than third of laptops

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GAO report

Federal agencies are encrypting sensitive data on only 30 percent of their laptop PCs and other devices, leaving the rest vulnerable to data loss and unauthorized release, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

Although federal law does not specifically address the use of encryption to protect data, the Office of Management and Budget issued a policy in 2006 recommending its use, and in 2007 OMB required agencies to use encryption on computers and devices that carry sensitive data.

Although encryption technologies are available, federal agencies are slow in adopting them, GAO reported.

“From July through September 2007, the major agencies collectively reported that they had not yet installed encryption technology to protect sensitive information on about 70 percent of their laptop computers and handheld devices,” the GAO report states.

Also, no agencies have developed comprehensive and documented plans to guide their encryption work, including installing and configuring the encryption software, developing policies and procedures for its use, and training users, the report states.

“As a result, federal information may remain at increased risk of unauthorized disclosure, loss, and modification,” GAO said. The report calls for OMB to clarify its policies on encryption and for agencies to improve their efforts.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who released the 74-page report July 28, said he was disappointed by the low rate of compliance.

“Encryption is not an option, it is a mandate. Unfortunately, I’m not surprised that despite mandates by OMB, the federal government is only 30 percent of the way there,” Thompson said. “This administration regularly falls short when it comes to addressing our information security weaknesses. Making the right investments in cybersecurity today will keep us from paying dearly in the long run.”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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