Coast Guard IT security gaps cited

Coast Guardsman using laptop

Although the Coast Guard has taken substantial steps in protecting its IT operations from insider threats, a few nagging gaps remain in its internal cyber armor, according to a recent Department of Homeland Inspector General report.

The Coast Guard is in the process of establishing an Insider Threat Working Group that will be charged with implementing a "holistic" program focused on identifying and counteracting insider threat risks. It has also implemented a process to verify system administrators' level of access to IT systems and networks, and set up a Cyber Security Operations Center to monitor and respond to potential insider threat risks and incidents.

IG inspectors' tests showed thumb drives and removable media devices could be connected to Coast Guard IT systems and could remove simulated sensitive information. The inspectors also found that simulated sensitive information could be sent from Coast Guard-issued email account to an external recipient's email account.

Inspectors used a variety of commercially made universal serial bus thumb drives in their tests. The use of non-government issued USBs by DHS personnel and contractors goes against federal policy, but the IG said the Coast Guard hasn't fully implemented upgrades to its McAfee Device Control Module to protect against their use.

Physical protection of IT assets, said the IG, is also an issue for the Coast Guard. Inspectors found unsecured server rooms, a dearth of access card readers and unlocked doors to IT equipment rooms at the Coast Guard Telecommunications and Information Systems Command building in Alexandria, Va., as well as some Coast Guard regional stations.

In its response comments, the Coast Guard told the IG that it has implemented the Department of Defense's mandated host-based security system that monitors threats and alerts its cyber command of unauthorized USB connections.

It also said it is developing a plan to improve physical protection of IT systems based on a recently-revised Physical Security Manual and plans to publish new guidance for its offices by the end of June.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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