No one is 100 percent secure

The data breach at the Federal Aviation Administration, recently lauded for its cybersecurity practices, shows that how agencies respond to incidents is as important as their work to prevent them.

You might think a cybersecurity breach that exposed the personal information of 45,000 people to still-unknown computer hackers would cause a furor in the mainstream media. And it probably would have, if those 45,000 individuals had been employees of, say, General Motors, Wal-Mart or Microsoft.

But in this case, the victims were current and former employees of the federal government — the Federal Aviation Administration, to be precise — and so the media apparently largely relegated them to the status of nameless, faceless bureaucrats. No news value there, I guess. Too bad, because they deserve better.

Where are Geraldo Rivera and Lou Dobbs when you need them?

This week’s cover story by staff writers Mary Mosquera and Ben Bain doesn’t tell those individual stories. That’s not really this magazine’s turf. But their reporting does highlight the noble efforts of the information security teams at FAA and other agencies in working to secure some of the government’s most precious assets: the information it stores away in cyber vaults.

FAA, in fact, had just been recognized by White House overseers for the exemplary job it had been doing in protecting data in its computer systems when agency officials discovered the breach in their own backyard. Which goes to show that even the best fortified firewalls remain vulnerable. (Page 10)

Also in this issue, staff writer Doug Beizer examines the elusive notion of enterprise architecture and what it takes to make it work. His case study is Recreation.gov, a one-stop vacation-planning shop built by the Interior Department that incorporates recreational land information from several different agencies spread across the federal government. (Page 39)

Alice Lipowicz, who has been bird-dogging the stimulus package through Congress since its inception just a few weeks ago, now gives special attention to the next chapter of this economic recovery saga: where the money goes. The Obama administration has launched a new Web site, Recovery.gov, that is supposed to track the dollar flow from this $787 billion bonanza, but as Alice reports, there is an inherent flaw in the system: Just when speed and focus are of the essence, it’s going to take considerable time and energy to make the various and sundry financial reporting systems compatible. And so the Obama byword, transparency, might be less than it appears. (Page 36)

Transparency and collaboration are the topics that social-media expert Mark Drapeau takes up in a column on the new cadre of federal employees who are using social software to network with one another and with the public at large. He calls them the “goverati.” (Page 19)

End Note: Federal Computer Week has just released the winners of the Federal 100 awards, which honor public- and private-sector information technology professionals who made outstanding contributions to the government IT community in 2008. We will dedicate the March 23 issue to profiling these worthy recipients. But you can find a list of the honorees now on www.fcw.com.

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