Cybersecurity

IG: Infosec weaknesses remain at VA

weak link 

While the Department of Veterans Affairs has taken steps to address longstanding information security challenges, VA still falls short of federal information security requirements, according to department's office of inspector general.

The Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014 requires IGs to conduct annual audits of agencies’ information security practices.

In the fiscal year 2016 review of VA’s information security posture, auditors reported that VA “has not remediated approximately 7,200 outstanding system security risks in its corresponding plans of action and milestones to improve its information security posture.”

The report details weaknesses in access controls, continuous monitoring controls and service continuity practices designed to safeguard mission-critical systems from unauthorized access and malicious activity.

Auditors identified “significant issues” relating to VA’s processes for ensuring that system authorities to operate were in effect, and that they comported with NIST risk management framework and VA’s own policies.

The OIG also discovered policies relating to its enterprise risk management program agency-wide were incomplete and inconsistently applied.

The audit also noted that VA suffered from weak passwords and struggled with access management, audit logging and monitoring, as well as strong authentication on its systems.

Additionally, auditors discovered unsecured database applications, unsecure network access controls, software vulnerabilities on third-party applications and outdated operating systems.

VA also does not monitor all its internal network for malicious traffic or attempted access by unauthorized systems, auditors found. As a result, the department lacks a complete inventory of all locally hosted systems, which could hamper its ability to adequately detect and respond to intrusion attempts. Additionally, auditors stated that the processes relating to software inventory need improvement.

The audit also revealed malware infections at three major data centers and two VA medical centers that were not addressed in a timely fashion.

In March 2016, the House Oversight and Government Reform IT Subcommittee pressed VA on its disappointing fiscal year 2015 FISMA audit, which reported 30 unresolved prior recommendations. In February, VA made some personnel changes in its informatics security leadership.

Audits made 33 recommendations for VA to improve its information security program, and Acting Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology Rob Thomas agreed with the OIG’s findings and recommendations.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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