Tags: IRS | computer | GAO | information

Your Tax Information Still Not Protected From Being Hacked

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Monday, 14 Apr 2014 08:06 AM Current | Bio | Archive

"Serious weaknesses remain that could affect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of financial and sensitive taxpayer data," says Nancy Kingsbury and Gregory Wilshusen in the Government Accountability Office (GAO)'s latest report on the IRS.

They ought to know. Kingsbury is the GAO's managing director of applied research and methods, and Wilshusen is the director of information security issues.

Although the IRS has suffered from funding problems, an ever-increasing workload of new tax laws, manpower limitations, Obamacare, compliance regulation impacting all financial institutions in the world and morale-depleting political scandals, that does not diminish the fact that your tax information is at risk of being stolen by hackers.

I have the impression that having all your most intimate financial details being in the IRS computers is somewhat analogous to a golf ball being teed up for Tiger Woods. Only these Tiger Woods are the professional computer hackers stealing billions of dollars by getting your financial — and medical — information that are stored on the government's computers.

GAO reports going back at least to 2007 have highlighted the flaws and vulnerabilities of the IRS' systems.

Basically, the IRS has long-standing information technology issues that can expose taxpayer data to cyber attacks by hackers, criminals and foreign governments.

The IRS is not alone.

The GAO report states, "Our previous reports, and those by federal inspector general, describe persistent information security weaknesses that place federal agencies, including the IRS, at risk of disruption, fraud or inappropriate disclosure of sensitive information."

The GAO labels the government's computer information security as a "high-risk area since 1997."

Yes, the IRS has made some progress, but as the GAO report notes, "These weaknesses and others in the IRS' security program increase the risk that taxpayer and other sensitive information could be disclosed or modified without authorization."

Even when it comes to something as fundamental as passwords and preventing wrongful access, the IRS did not fully implement effective controls in the areas of user identification, authentication, authorization, cryptography, audit and monitoring and physical security.

Other parts of the information systems are also in peril. This is especially troubling considering that the IRS has the heavy burden of trying to keep their computer systems up to date with Congress constantly making dramatic changes in the tax law. And now the IRS has oversight of both the entire healthcare system and getting U.S. tax compliance of every foreign financial account held by every financial institution worldwide.

Planning for continuity in configuring the computer system for new policies, procedures, techniques and software updates are challenges that may well be, and likely are, beyond any governmental agency or private company's ability to keep pace.

The IRS is in the same boat as many computer owners in private industry in that it has a lot of its computers still using the Windows XP operating system, which Microsoft is no longer supporting with any security updates. The current IRS commissioner explained in a recent congressional hearing that the conversion from Windows XP to Windows 7 had not been completed since the IRS didn't have the money to do it.

Not matter whether congress or the IRS is to blame for this mess, the fact is that taxpayers' sensitive financial information is not being protected by the government from being hacked.

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Kleinfeld
Although the IRS has suffered from funding problems, an ever-increasing workload of new tax laws, manpower limitations, Obamacare, compliance regulation impacting all financial institutions, that does not diminish the fact that your tax information is at risk of being stolen by hackers.
IRS, computer, GAO, information
544
2014-06-14
Monday, 14 Apr 2014 08:06 AM
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