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NASA officials failed to wipe sensitive agency data from computers before releasing them to the public, a violation of procedures that are part of the plan to securely end the Space Shuttle program, an audit released on Tuesday said.

Kennedy Space Center in Florida – one of four NASA sites with reported weaknesses in the disposition process – cleared the release of 14 computers to the public that had failed tests to verify data had been destroyed, the report found. Of the four that remained in NASA's possession, one contained Space Shuttle related data that was subject to export control by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. The audit, prepared by NASA's Inspector General, covered a 12-month period starting in June 2009.

“The weaknesses we identified in NASA's IT sanitization policy and procedures put NASA at risk of releasing sensitive information that could cause harm to its mission and violate federal laws and regulations that protect such information,” the report stated.

The investigators also found hard drives that were missing from Kennedy and the Langley Research Center in Virginia. Some of the hard drives were later found inside a publicly accessible dumpster.

Inspectors also found “several pallets of computers” at a disposal facility that still “contained external markings with NASA's Internet Protocol addresses.” The report concluded that the lapses stemmed from a combination of of inadequacies in NASA policy and failures to comply with that policy.

NASA's chief information officer has already agreed to update the sanitization policy, but even that didn't fully satisfy inspectors.

“Moreover, we are troubled that management's response does not reflect the sense of urgency we believe is required to address the serious security issues uncovered by our audit,” the report continued. “Accordingly, we consider the recommendations to be unresolved.”

A PDF of the report is here. ®

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