Tags: cyber | security | hacker | government

GOP Report: Government Agencies Failing at Basic Security Precautions

Wednesday, 05 Feb 2014 07:15 PM

U.S. officials have warned that the prospect of a cyber-attack is the nation's top threat, yet federal officials might be unprepared to defend networks against even the most amateur hackers, according to a report from the Republican members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

In the report, previous failed attempts by federal officials to secure information systems were addressed. The report cited an attempt to break into the Emergency Broadcast System last February. Television stations in Michigan, Montana and North Dakota broadcasted zombie attack warnings, under the control of hackers.

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The hacked broadcast message: “Civil authorities in your area have reported that the bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living. Do not attempt to approach or apprehend these bodies as they are considered extremely dangerous.”

This example highlighted the government’s weaknesses in securing many critical systems throughout the government.

U.S. officials have allocated increased spending for computer security to resist threats of cyber-attacks, however according to the report, even modestly skilled hackers can break into networks since federal agencies are ill-equipped.

Alan Paller, who is research director at the SANS Institute, a cyber-security education group, and reviewed a draft version of the report ahead of its official release said in a statement to the Washington Post that as a taxpayer, he is outraged.

"We’re spending all this money and getting so little impact for it,” he said.

Federal officials failed to install security patches, update antivirus software, communicate on secure networks and implement strong passwords, the report said. Weak passwords were discovered on federal systems, the report said.

The Obama administration has acknowledged the hurdles of getting agencies to secure their systems.

“Almost every agency faces a cyber-security challenge,” said Michael Daniel, special assistant to the president on cyber-security policy. “Some are farther along than others in driving awareness of it. It often depends on whether they’ve been in the cross-hairs of a major cyber incident.”

The Department of Homeland Security took a lot of criticism in the report. The report exposed the department’s failure to update essential software  —  “the basic security measure just about any American with a computer has performed.”

The ranking Republican on the committee, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, oversaw the development of the report. “None of the other agencies want to listen to Homeland Security when they aren’t taking care of their own systems,” he said. “They aren’t even doing the simple stuff.”

The Department of Homeland Security said it is addressing issues identified in the report and is working on getting to the bottom of those problems.

“DHS has taken significant measures to improve and strengthen our capabilities to address the cyber risks associated with our critical information networks and systems,” department spokesman S.Y. Lee wrote in an e-mail.

Recent cases of cyber-security have exposed the government’s weaknesses in security practices.

A group of cyber security professionals warned that the U.S. government has failed to implement fixes to protect the HealthCare.gov website from hackers, some three months after experts first pointed out the problem, Reuters reported.

David Kennedy, head of computer-security consulting firm TrustedSec LLC, recently told Reuters that the government has yet to plug more than 20 vulnerabilities that he and other security experts reported to the government shortly after HealthCare.gov went live on Oct. 1.

"If Americans' information is not secure, then the theft of their identities is inevitable and dangerous," Rep. Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas, said in a statement. "The president should take swift action to ensure that the American people are not the next target of cybercriminals."

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U.S. officials have warned for years that the prospect of a cyberattack is the nation's top threat, yet federal officials may be ill-prepared to defend networks against even modestly skilled hackers.
cyber,security,hacker,government
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2014-15-05
Wednesday, 05 Feb 2014 07:15 PM
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