NASA's shadow IT problem

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NASA has been among the agencies most aggressively pursuing federal "cloud first" initiatives. But the space agency isn't checking all the right boxes, and employees are still using cloud services without going through tech officials, according to NASA's internal watchdog

In a Feb. 7 oversight report, NASA's Office of Inspector General found that not all of the agency's cloud systems were registered through the approval process for the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program and that several services lacked authorizations to operate "and were not covered by an IT system security plan."

The report was a follow-up to a 2013 report that identified weaknesses in the agency's risk management and practices for cloud implementation that could put systems and the data stored on them at risk.

During the audit, the IG discovered "numerous unapproved cloud services in use at NASA." Some of these were in the category of "shadow IT," in which agency personnel, to quickly address their own needs, purchased cloud services  such as Box, Dropbox, Evernote, iCloud and others  outside the authority of the CIO.

The report notes that in the course of the audit, "the OCIO itself identified and placed on the cloud services registry eight services it had not approved." Additionally, auditors identified 20 additional cloud services that had escaped the notice of the CIO's office.

The IG recommended that NASA take a closer look at how cloud services are being used, acquired and coordinated, as well as ensuring they meet agency needs.

It recommended that it also make sure all of its cloud service offerings are on the register and that they are all FedRAMP compliant.

NASA CIO Renee Wynn pushed back on the FedRAMP requirement. The FedRAMP program, with its lengthy approval time and backlog of vendors in the pipeline, doesn't offer the range of commercial cloud services. Wynn noted that only 0.5 percent of cloud products have been determined to meet FedRAMP standards.

"Because so few cloud products have received FedRAMP approval, federal agencies are inhibited from fully adopting the ‘cloud first’ approach to replacing information technology resources with cloud solutions," Wynn wrote. "NASA will use FedRAMP approved cloud services whenever available. Otherwise, NASA will perform an appropriate risk assessment, and may make a risk-based decision to approve the service for use at NASA."

Wynn also pledged to begin blocking access to unapproved cloud services on the NASA network. She said NASA plans to use a cloud security broker to handle the role of maintaining a registry of approved services and to loop the security team in on blocking the IP addresses of unapproved services. This is expected to be completed in early January of 2018.

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, tele.com 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 mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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