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US Vets hacked to pieces

Friendly fire leaves personal details exposed

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War is a serious pastime in America and it doesn't take much to imagine an army of US veterans declaring "This is war!" when the full details of their government association's dreadful computer security came to light.

At hearings held by the House Veterans' Affairs Oversight Subcommittee, Veteran Affairs' Assistant Inspector General Michael Slachta told the panel that when they hired PricewaterhouseCoopers to perform a security audit, not only did hackers crack into several systems under VA control, they also managed to break into the backbone. This meant that everything from medical records to financial details to personal histories of veterans plus confidential business documents of the association were fully accessible. And to top it off, the Veteran Affairs crew didn't even know their systems had been attacked.

This appalling lapse came about because the VA has not implemented an integrated security management programme, and whoever is to blame for that is winding up the wrong people. The Department of Veteran Affairs is a very powerful force in the US, which is surprising to us Brits because our boys' widows tend to have to fight for a cup of tea out the government. What is also interesting is the US openness - it's seems unlikely that the same security failure would have ever been reported publicly on this side of the Atlantic. Veteran Affairs currently supports around 26 million people in the US and, apparently, one-third of the US population is entitled to some kind of benefit.

It's all steeped in history. The Pilgrims, way back in the 16th century, had a bit of hassle on their hands and so, in the great American tradition, put the promise of money behind it and before you knew it there was a fully kitted-out army. The government supports fighters from any war it ever has, and the claims only stop coming in when the last one passes away. It's help create one helluva pro-military culture and is very significant in creating the US virtual military dominance of the world.

It really is quite impressive what Veteran Affairs now includes. It has a huge range of departments including a Health Administration, Benefits Administration, Cemetery Administration, a centre for both women and minority vets (dealing solely with hamster injuries?), and other departments that work with Congress, all aspects of government and also business.

It was the Veterans' Benefits Administration and the Veterans' Health Administration which were found to be weakest in the PWC audit.

It also has an IT department and despite angry fingers pointing at the Clinton administration in general for the security lapse, it is this department that is likely to get a dose of friendly fire. And it deserves it. ®

Related Link

The Veteran Affairs Web site

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