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About those 844 security breaches... 'fess up, Congress tells DHS

Once more unto the security breach, DHS

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Congress put Homeland Security's chief information officer Scott Charbo to task yesterday to explain how America's lead agency for fighting cyber threats suffered over 800 hacker attacks, break-ins, virus outbreaks and other computer security problems over the last two years.

Charbo testified before a House subcommittee which convened to probe the agency's security lapses. He downplayed concerns, saying that most breaches were minor and the agency has made security improvements.

The DHS reported 844 security incidents in fiscal years 2005 and 2006.

Among the laundry list of cases reported were:

  • A password dumping utility and other malicious files in two DHS systems
  • Workstations infected with multiple Trojans and viruses. One Trojan was found attempting to scan DHS systems through the internet.
  • User IDs and passwords for a local administrator accound found in hard copy
  • Classified emails being sent over unsecure networks
  • Unauthorized users attaching personal computers to the DHS network
  • Firewalls misconfigured by a contractor to allow all ICMP traffic to and from the internet
  • Missing laptops
  • Numerous (but unspecified) "classified data spillages."

"How can the Department of Homeland Security be a real advocate for sound cyber-security practices without following some of its own advice?" pondered Bennie Thompson, Democratic representative for Mississippi and committee chairman.

In a report last week The Government Accountability Office claimed the DHS's "program deficiencies contribute to significant weakness in computer security controls that threaten the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of key DHS information and information systems".

Charbo told Congress the department plans to spend $332m on IT security in 2007.

"I'm confident that the DHS information security program is moving in the right direction," He testified. "Although we still have a ways to go, we've made measurable improvements in the management of information security at the department." ®

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