FAA will use software to identify sensitive data

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) plans to implement software designed to look for personally identifiable information in computer systems so the agency can have a more thorough inventory of its sensitive data, a FAA senior official has said.

A recent data breach at the FAA demonstrated how difficult it is for agencies with large infrastructures to know where all their sensitive data is and to assure its security, Dave Bowen, the FAA’s chief information officer, said Feb. 24 after a presentation at an industry event sponsored by TechAmerica.

Earlier this month, a hacker broke into an FAA computer server and stole the information from 48 files, two of which contained the personally identifiable information of 45,000 employees and retirees. The server probably had been used for testing purposes some time ago and had never been cleaned off, he said.

“We recognize that this is a problem, and we’re taking steps to remediate it," Bowen said. "We are going to be looking aggressively across our entire infrastructure. This file was just sitting out there; it didn’t really relate to a system."

Bowen added that using certification and accreditation (C&A) of computer systems to ensure they are secure would not have necessarily flagged the sensitive data. C&A is a process for evaluating system security compliance and risk management under the Federal Information Security Management Act.

The FAA will acquire a crawler-type of application that identifies personally identifiable information across the agency’s infrastructure, Bowen said. Then, the agency's CIO staff members can determine if the data is adequately protected, if it is necessary, or dispose of it appropriately if it is not necessary.

“Obviously, the situation has caught the attention of our senior executives, and I’m going to be briefing them on lessons learned,” he said. Law enforcement authorities continue to investigate the data theft, Bowen also said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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