Inspector General Calls VA on Carpet Over Data Theft
Internal report cites 'indifference' of security officers
Computerworld - Information security officers and other officials at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reacted with "indifference" and a "lack of urgency" after learning about the theft of computer hardware containing personal data on millions of veterans, according to a report released last week by the agency's inspector general.
The report also says that process and policy failures, a lack of supervision and personal squabbles contributed to the security breach and the VA's response to the incident. The inspector general recommended several steps for addressing the shortcomings, including the adoption of a "clear, concise" policy for safeguarding sensitive data.
In a letter to the inspector general that was included with the report, VA Secretary R. James Nicholson said he fully concurs with the recommendations and is committed to making the VA "a gold standard" for information security among government agencies.
The security breach "exposed deficiencies in information security involving leadership, policies and procedures," Nicholson wrote. "That will change during my tenure." He added that he has made it clear inside the VA that improving security and reorganizing the agency's Office of Information Technology "are my top priorities going forward."
'Decades of Neglect'
But Bruce Brody, a former chief information security officer at the VA, called the inspector general's findings a little underwhelming. The report "points fingers at all the symptoms instead of all the underlying causes," said Brody, who is now a security consultant at Input in Reston, Va.
A lot of the problems at the VA involve systemic cultural issues and an environment in which the agency's IT and security offices traditionally have had far too little authority to be really effective, Brody claimed. "Decades and decades of neglect and a fierce resistance to centralized authority are the root causes for this," he said.
The names, Social Security numbers and other personal data of 26.5 million veterans and active-duty military personnel were exposed when a laptop PC and external hard disk were stolen May 3 from the home of a VA data analyst. Both pieces of hardware were recovered last month by the FBI, which has said that the data appears to have been untouched.
Nonetheless, the VA is stilltaking heat from members of Congress who want the agency to go forward with a sweeping restructuring of its IT operations. The inspector general's 78-page report bolsters the calls for internal changes, listing lapses up and down the chain of command at the VA.
For instance, the data analyst whose house was burglarized was authorized to access VA databases, according to the report. But much of the information he had stored on the hard drive was being used for a self-initiated project he had been doing on his own time since 2003 without the knowledge of his supervisors, the report says.
- Enable secure remote access to 3D data without sacrificing visual perfomance Design and manufacturing companies must adapt quickly to the demands of an increasingly global and competitive economy. To speed time to market for...
- Virtually Delivered High Performance 3D Graphics "A picture is worth a thousand words." That old phrase is as true today as it ever was. Pictures (i.e., those with heavy...
- Best Practices for Securing Hadoop Historically, Apache Hadoop has provided limited security capabilities. To protect sensitive data being stored and analyzed in Hadoop, security architects should use a...
- Top Tips for Securing Big Data Environments: Why Big Data Doesn't Have to Mean Big Security Challenges Organizations must come to terms with the security challenges they introduce. As big data environments ingest more data, organizations will face significant risks...
- What should I look for in a Next Generation Firewall? SANS Provides Guidance With so many vendors claiming to have a Next Generation Firewall (NGFW), it can be difficult to tell what makes each one different....
- Responding to New SSL Cybersecurity Threat The featured Gartner research examines current strategies to address new SSL cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities. All Security White Papers | Webcasts
Our new bimonthly Internet of Things newsletter helps you keep pace with the rapidly evolving technologies, trends and developments related to the IoT. Subscribe now and stay up to date!