DHS gets past phishing but leaves docs exposed

Shutterstock image (by Pavel Ignatov): Alert icon.

The Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General publicly released a report on May 16 that states DHS employees did not budge when asked to give up password information to a friendly caller, but a few of them did leave sensitive documents out on desks and other areas in offices.

The IG contracted with KPMG in late 2015 to conduct an information security test on the agency's Office of Financial Management (OFM) and Office of the CIO. The audit took stock of nontechnical areas related to the protection of sensitive IT and financial information and assets.

On May 6, the IG sent a final version of the audit to DHS CIO Luke McCormack and Chip Fulghum, deputy undersecretary for management and chief financial officer at DHS.

As part of the audit, KPMG representatives called OFM employees on the telephone posing as DHS IT specialists to see if they could wheedle out password information, a technique called "social engineering" in cyber parlance. They called 28 employees and contractors and reached eight of them.

"Of the 8 individuals with whom we spoke, none divulged passwords in violation of DHS policy," the report states. KPMG noted, however, that the calling sample should not be used to extrapolate to OFM as a whole.

The firm's representatives also visited OFM and CIO facilities to take stock of how physical documents were protected, and their findings were less stellar. During after-hours walkthroughs at OFM, auditors inspected 68 workspaces and found six that had material -- including information marked "for official use only" -- left unattended and unsecured in violation of DHS policy. The FOUO designation is used for controlled, unclassified information.

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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