Letter to the Editor

Too few IT workers are capable of handling technology

Every week I receive my copy of FCW and read those articles that pertain to computer security because that is where my career is focused. I am an information systems security auditor (ISSA) with the second largest cabinet agency in the federal system. I was appointed to that position more than five years ago. During that time, I have gone through a list of computer security audits ranging from reviewing and verifying contingency plans and disaster recovery to penetration tests.

I've been amazed at the grandiose claims that some agency workers make in Federal Computer Week about providing pay increases to the information technology area. I'm an auditor and have seen many of the IT federal employees. There are a few who are capable of handling tomorrow's technology, but there are too many more who are paper pushers or former help-desk employees in good standing. Granted, this creates a level of trust, but to trade that for incompetence? I think we can do better.

Recently while on an audit, I provided an audience of IT staff members with a demonstration of how insecure their system was and how that vulnerability could cost them because they lacked the ability to audit. Talk of this quickly made it back to Washington, D.C., where it had other career-threatening implications. (I may talk of them some other time.)

While I was writing up the report, I felt it was my duty to inform them of how or what steps they could take to test and to determine the measure of their configuration. I called the chief administrator (who, by the way, probably is now receiving this increased pay) to discuss system audit settings. To my amazement, he was completely unaware of how to set up that simple configuration. This was not his fault. This is the fault of an incompetent federal system of management.

Years ago, during a review of top-down responsibility of policy enforcement, the chief information officer's only computer training over the past 10 years was for Microsoft Word and Excel. This was the man responsible for writing information security policy within the second largest federal government agency.

I agree that those who work within the field of ever-changing technology should be paid more, and I also understand that there will be a few incompetents who will slip through the cracks. But today I'm afraid that more than a few populate the area responsible for system security who know little more than how to log on to the network server to set up users.

I know the bureaucracy of the government. I know the petty childish management ploys disguised as taking action while top-level managers are allowed to dictate to IT system administrators that their passwords don't have to comply with policy. I know the good-old-boy system, where the office of the inspector general is informally asked not to disclose findings.

I am bitter at the frustration of standing by and watching while people categorized in the 334 series — whose main function is to download data from a mainframe and import it into a Microsoft document — receive this increase. I am bitter at the frustration of trying to explain the security implications of a misconfigured server to someone who is two pay grades above me and is now receiving a pay increase. I am bitter at the frustration of studying for the CISA, CISSP, CNNA and MCSE exams, reading the latest $50 information security book and going through each day's Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures, Bugtraq, SecurityFocus and InfoSec e-mail. And I am bitter at the frustration of having to set up my own network at home because management thinks a training room connected to the agency network is a lab.

The calamity here is not the incompetence of government management, for I'm sure there are those few who have a good understanding of information security. The calamity is that when there is that attack against a computer, what will management do, re-boot? Or worse, point the finger at the person most capable?

Name withheld upon request

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