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Auditor to Oz PM&C: Don’t use Webmail for leaks

Security spooks slap sloppy civil servants

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Australian cloud computing chauvinists are prepping the “#GovDoesn’tGetIt” hashtag after the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), with a bit of help from the spooks in the Defence Signals Directorate, identified services like Hotmail and Gmail as key vulnerabilities in government information security.

As noted many years ago in Yes Minister, “the ship of state is the only ship that leaks from the top”, so it’s unsurprising that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is identified in the report as allowing its staff to access Webmail.

The ANAO report stated that while government information security was mostly acceptable – “generally operating in accordance with Government protective security requirements” in agency-speak – public web-based email services provide too many vulnerability vectors.

“Emails using public web‐based email services should be blocked on agency ICT systems, as these can provide an easily accessible point of entry for an external attack and subject the agency to the potential for intended or unintended information disclosure. Webmail accounts were accessible in one of the audited agencies, and logs showed that some staff were using these accounts on a regular basis,” the report said.

The review only covered four agencies – the Australian Office of Financial Management, ComSuper, Medicare Australia and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet – which perhaps explains why only one agency was found to be allowing access to Webmail services.

The PM’s department outed itself in its response to the report’s recommendations, stating that it will block access to Webmail services from July 1.

The ANAO report recommends that if such access is required in the future, it should be via standalone single-purpose machines like kiosks.

Other vulnerabilities noted in the report include out-of-date policies, and that perennial standby, unpatched third-party software. ®

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