Watchdog: GSA slow-walked breach notification

GSA Headquarters (Photo by Rena Schild/Shutterstock) 

The GSA's inspector general wants a new plan from the agency on how it will respond to breaches of employee personnel data, after it took up to two years to formally notify some of its workers their information had been compromised.

The General Services Administration's IG told the agency its response to a 2015 data breach that exposed the personal data of up to 8,200 employees wasn't adequate in a report released publicly on Oct. 19.

In 2015, the names, home addresses and personal email addresses for over 8,200 current and former GSA employees were compromised when an agency employee emailed an unencrypted file containing the data to the agency's independent external financial auditor.

In September 2016, the GSA IG audited the agency's response to the breach and recommended how to tighten up response plans.

In its latest report on the incident, the IG said the agency's Office of IT hasn't addressed key parts of the initial audit's recommendations, including modified notification and response plans. The latest report said the agency took until December 2017 to notify over 20 of those employees whose information had been compromised.

The report noted that although GSA's OIT had assessed and revised its breach notification policy to align with the IG's corrective action plan in 2016, the revisions the agency made "could hinder its ability to notify affected individuals without unreasonable delay in the future."

In its initial revisions, GSA adjusted its breach report timeframe, which had adhered to the Federal Information Security Modernization Act rule requiring a report to the Computer Emergency Readiness Team within an hour of the breach's identification. The agency's adjusted policy, said the IG, provides more time for the agency to identify the breach and notify those affected, but at the same time, it can wind up delaying notification of victims by as long as 60 days.

The IG told GSA OIT to hand in a revised corrective action plan that has provisions to notify breach victims "without unreasonable delay" by Nov. 19.

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 [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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