GAO: Security breach response by feds is uneven

Cybersecurity - vulnerabilities

Agencies are inconsistent when responding to security breaches that involve personally identifiable information, and three of the eight agencies evaluated by the Government Accountability Office did not address Office of Management and Budget parameters for dealing with such problems.

One example cited in a GAO report released Jan. 8 was the Army's lack of parameters for offering assistance to victims of PII breaches, while the IRS failed to factor in the number employees potentially affected.

"None of the agencies we reviewed consistently documented the evaluation of incidents and resulting lessons learned," the GAO report said. "Incomplete guidance from OMB contributed to this inconsistent implementation. As a result, these agencies may not be taking corrective actions consistently to limit the risk to individuals from PII-related data breach incidents."

The report also said that filing an incident report with Homeland Security's Computer Emergency Readiness Team within an hour, which is the current protocol, is difficult and can actually get in the way of resolving the breach.

"Officials at agencies and US-CERT generally agreed that the current requirement that PII-related incidents be reported within 1 hour may be difficult to meet and may not provide US-CERT with the best information," the report said. "Specifically, officials at the Army, [Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation], [the Federal Reserve], [Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board], and [Securities and Exchange Commission] indicated that it was difficult to prepare a meaningful report on a PII incident to US- CERT within the 1-hour time frame required by OMB."

Often, detailed information concerning a breach is not available within that time frame. The report also suggested that the attention spent on paper-based PII breaches may be excessive because of the low risk they pose.

According to US-CERT statistics, the number of security incidents involving PII was 22,000 in 2012, up from 10,000 in 2009.

About the Author

Reid Davenport is an FCW editorial fellow. Connect with him on Twitter: @ReidDavenport.

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