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United States Government Accountability Office: 
GAO: 

Testimony: 

Before the Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization, and 
Procurement; House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 2:00 p.m. EDT: 
May 5, 2009: 

Information Security: 

Cyber Threats and Vulnerabilities Place Federal Systems at Risk: 

Statement of Gregory C. Wilshusen: 
Director, Information Security Issues: 

GAO-09-661T: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-09-661T, a testimony before the Subcommittee on 
Government Management, Organization, and Procurement, Committee on 
Oversight and Government Reform, House of Representatives. 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

Information security is a critical consideration for any organization 
that depends on information systems and computer networks to carry out 
its mission or business. It is especially important for government 
agencies, where maintaining the publicís trust is essential. The need 
for a vigilant approach to information security has been demonstrated 
by the pervasive and sustained computer-based (cyber) attacks against 
the United States and others that continue to pose a potentially 
devastating impact to systems and the operations and critical 
infrastructures that they support. 

GAO was asked to describe (1) cyber threats to federal information 
systems and cyber-based critical infrastructures and (2) control 
deficiencies that make these systems and infrastructures vulnerable to 
those threats. To do so, GAO relied on its previous reports and 
reviewed agency and inspectors general reports on information security. 

What GAO Found: 

Cyber threats to federal information systems and cyber-based critical 
infrastructures are evolving and growing. These threats can be 
unintentional and intentional, targeted or nontargeted, and can come 
from a variety of sources, such as foreign nations engaged in espionage 
and information warfare, criminals, hackers, virus writers, and 
disgruntled employees and contractors working within an organization. 
Moreover, these groups and individuals have a variety of attack 
techniques at their disposal, and cyber exploitation activity has grown 
more sophisticated, more targeted, and more serious. As government, 
private sector, and personal activities continue to move to networked 
operations, as digital systems add ever more capabilities, as wireless 
systems become more ubiquitous, and as the design, manufacture, and 
service of information technology have moved overseas, the threat will 
continue to grow. In the absence of robust security programs, agencies 
have experienced a wide range of incidents involving data loss or 
theft, computer intrusions, and privacy breaches, underscoring the need 
for improved security practices. These developments have led government 
officials to become increasingly concerned about the potential for a 
cyber attack. 

According to GAO reports and annual security reporting, federal systems 
are not sufficiently protected to consistently thwart cyber threats. 
Serious and widespread information security control deficiencies 
continue to place federal assets at risk of inadvertent or deliberate 
misuse, financial information at risk of unauthorized modification or 
destruction, sensitive information at risk of inappropriate disclosure, 
and critical operations at risk of disruption. For example, over the 
last several years, most agencies have not implemented controls to 
sufficiently prevent, limit, or detect access to computer networks, 
systems, and information, and weaknesses were reported in such controls 
at 23 of 24 major agencies for fiscal year 2008. Agencies also did not 
always configure network devices and service properly, segregate 
incompatible duties, or ensure that continuity of operations plans 
contained all essential information. An underlying cause for these 
weaknesses is that agencies have not yet fully or effectively 
implemented key elements of their agencywide information security 
programs. To improve information security, efforts have been initiated 
that are intended to strengthen the protection of federal information 
and information systems. For example, the Comprehensive National 
Cybersecurity Initiative was launched in January 2008 and is intended 
to improve federal efforts to protect against intrusion attempts and 
anticipate future threats. Until such opportunities are seized and 
fully exploited and GAO recommendations to mitigate identified control 
deficiencies and implement agencywide information security programs are 
fully and effectively implemented, federal information and systems will 
remain vulnerable. 

What GAO Recommends: 

In previous reports over the past several years, GAO has made hundreds 
of recommendations to agencies to mitigate identified control 
deficiencies and to fully implement information security programs. 

View [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-661T] or key 
components. For more information, contact Gregory C. Wilshusen at (202) 
512-6244 or wilshuseng@gao.gov. 

[End of section] 

Chairwoman Watson and Members of the Subcommittee: 

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in today's hearing on the 
threats, vulnerabilities, and challenges in securing federal 
information systems. Information security is a critical consideration 
for any organization that depends on information systems and computer 
networks to carry out its mission or business. It is especially 
important for government agencies, where maintaining the public's trust 
is essential. The need for a vigilant approach to information security 
has been demonstrated by the pervasive and sustained computer-based 
(cyber) attacks against the United States and others that continue to 
pose a potentially devastating impact to systems and the operations and 
critical infrastructures that they support. 

In my testimony today, I will describe (1) cyber threats to federal 
information systems and cyber-based critical infrastructures and (2) 
control deficiencies that make these systems and infrastructures 
vulnerable to those threats. In preparing for this testimony, we relied 
on our previous reports on federal information security. These reports 
contain detailed overviews of the scope and methodology we used. We 
also reviewed inspectors general (IG) reports on information security, 
analyzed performance and accountability reports for 24 major federal 
agencies,[Footnote 1] and examined information provided by the U.S. 
Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) on reported security 
incidents. 

We conducted our work in support of this testimony during April and May 
2009, in the Washington, D.C. area. The work on which this testimony is 
based was performed in accordance with generally accepted government 
auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform 
audits to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a 
reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit 
objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable 
basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. 

Background: 

As computer technology has advanced, federal agencies have become 
dependent on computerized information systems to carry out their 
operations and to process, maintain, and report essential information. 
Virtually all federal operations are supported by automated systems and 
electronic data, and agencies would find it difficult, if not 
impossible, to carry out their missions, deliver services to the 
public, and account for their resources without these information 
assets. Information security is thus especially important for federal 
agencies to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of 
their information and information systems. Conversely, ineffective 
information security controls can result in significant risk to a broad 
array of government operations and assets. For example: 

* Resources, such as federal payments and collections, could be lost or 
stolen. 

* Computer resources could be used for unauthorized purposes or to 
launch attacks on other computer systems. 

* Sensitive information, such as taxpayer data, Social Security 
records, medical records, intellectual property, and proprietary 
business information, could be inappropriately disclosed, browsed, or 
copied for purposes of identity theft, espionage, or other types of 
crime. 

* Critical operations, such as those supporting critical 
infrastructure, national defense, and emergency services, could be 
disrupted. 

* Data could be added, modified, or deleted for purposes of fraud, 
subterfuge, or disruption. 

* Agency missions could be undermined by embarrassing incidents that 
result in diminished confidence in the ability of federal organizations 
to conduct operations and fulfill their responsibilities. 

Federal Systems and Infrastructures Face Increasing Cyber Threats: 

Cyber threats to federal information systems and cyber-based critical 
infrastructures are evolving and growing. In September 2007, we 
reported[Footnote 2] that these threats can be unintentional and 
intentional, targeted or nontargeted, and can come from a variety of 
sources. Unintentional threats can be caused by inattentive or 
untrained employees, software upgrades, maintenance procedures, and 
equipment failures that inadvertently disrupt systems or corrupt data. 
Intentional threats include both targeted and nontargeted attacks. A 
targeted attack is when a group or individual attacks a specific system 
or cyber-based critical infrastructure. A nontargeted attack occurs 
when the intended target of the attack is uncertain, such as when a 
virus, worm, or other malicious software[Footnote 3] is released on the 
Internet with no specific target. 

Government officials are concerned about attacks from individuals and 
groups with malicious intent, such as criminals, terrorists, and 
adversarial foreign nations. For example, in February 2009, the 
Director of National Intelligence testified that foreign nations and 
criminals have targeted government and private sector networks to gain 
a competitive advantage and potentially disrupt or destroy them, and 
that terrorist groups have expressed a desire to use cyber attacks as a 
means to target the United States.[Footnote 4] The Federal Bureau of 
Investigation has identified multiple sources of threats to our 
nation's critical information systems, including foreign nations 
engaged in espionage and information warfare, domestic criminals, 
hackers, virus writers, and disgruntled employees and contractors 
working within an organization. Table 1 summarizes those groups or 
individuals that are considered to be key sources of cyber threats to 
our nation's information systems and cyber infrastructures. 

Table 1: Sources of Cyber Threats: 

Threat source: Foreign nations; 
Description: Foreign intelligence services use cyber tools as part of 
their information gathering and espionage activities. According to the 
Director of National Intelligence, a growing array of state and 
nonstate adversaries are increasingly targeting--for exploitation and 
potentially disruption or destruction--information infrastructure, 
including the Internet, telecommunications networks, computer systems, 
and embedded processors and controllers in critical industries.[A] 

Threat source: Criminal groups; 
Description: There is an increased use of cyber intrusions by criminal 
groups that attack systems for monetary gain. 

Threat source: Hackers; 
Description: Hackers sometimes crack into networks for the thrill of 
the challenge or for bragging rights in the hacker community. While 
remote cracking once required a fair amount of skill or computer 
knowledge, hackers can now download attack scripts and protocols from 
the Internet and launch them against victim sites. Thus, attack tools 
have become more sophisticated and easier to use. 

Threat source: Hacktivists; 
Description: Hacktivism refers to politically motivated attacks on 
publicly accessible Web pages or e-mail servers. These groups and 
individuals overload e-mail servers and hack into Web sites to send a 
political message. 

Threat source: Disgruntled insiders; 
Description: The disgruntled insider, working from within an 
organization, is a principal source of computer crimes. Insiders may 
not need a great deal of knowledge about computer intrusions because 
their knowledge of a victim system often allows them to gain 
unrestricted access to cause damage to the system or to steal system 
data. The insider threat also includes contractor personnel. 

Threat source: Terrorists; 
Description: Terrorists seek to destroy, incapacitate, or exploit 
critical infrastructures to threaten national security, cause mass 
casualties, weaken the U.S. economy, and damage public morale and 
confidence. However, traditional terrorist adversaries of the United 
States are less developed in their computer network capabilities than 
other adversaries. Terrorists likely pose a limited cyber threat. The 
Central Intelligence Agency believes terrorists will stay focused on 
traditional attack methods, but it anticipates growing cyber threats as 
a more technically competent generation enters the ranks. 

Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, unless otherwise indicated. 

[A] Prepared statement of Dennis Blair, Director of Central 
Intelligence, before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 
February 12, 2009. 

[End of table] 

These groups and individuals have a variety of attack techniques at 
their disposal. Furthermore, as we have previously reported,[Footnote 
5] the techniques have characteristics that can vastly enhance the 
reach and impact of their actions, such as the following: 

* Attackers do not need to be physically close to their targets to 
perpetrate a cyber attack. 

* Technology allows actions to easily cross multiple state and national 
borders. 

* Attacks can be carried out automatically, at high speed, and by 
attacking a vast number of victims at the same time. 

* Attackers can more easily remain anonymous. 

Table 2 identifies the types and techniques of cyber attacks that are 
commonly used.[Footnote 6] 

Table 2: Types and Techniques of Cyber Attacks: 

Type of attack: Denial of service; 
Description: A method of attack that denies system access to legitimate 
users without actually having to compromise the targeted system. From a 
single source, the attack overwhelms the target computers with messages 
and blocks legitimate traffic. It can prevent one system from being 
able to exchange data with other systems or prevent the system from 
using the Internet. 

Type of attack: Distributed denial of service; 
Description: A variant of the denial-of-service attack that uses a 
coordinated attack from a distributed system of computers rather than a 
single source. It often makes use of worms to spread to multiple 
computers that can then attack the target. 

Type of attack: Exploit tools; 
Description: Publicly available and sophisticated tools that intruders 
of various skill levels can use to determine vulnerabilities and gain 
entry into targeted systems. 

Type of attack: Logic bomb; 
Description: A form of sabotage in which a programmer inserts code that 
causes the program to perform a destructive action when some triggering 
even occurs, such as terminating the programmer's employment. 

Type of attack: Sniffer; 
Description: Synonymous with packet sniffer. A program that intercepts 
routed data and examines each packet in search of specified 
information, such as passwords transmitted in clear text. 

Type of attack: Trojan horse; 
Description: A computer program that conceals harmful code. A Trojan 
horse usually masquerades as a useful program that a user would wish to 
execute. 

Type of attack: Virus; 
Description: A program that "infects" computer files, usually 
executable programs, by inserting a copy of itself into the file. These 
copies are usually executed when the infected files is loaded into 
memory, allowing the virus to infect other files. Unlike the computer 
worms, a virus requires human involvement (usually unwitting) to 
propagate. 

Type of attack: Worm; 
Description: An independent computer program that reproduces by copying 
itself from one system to another across a network. Unlike computer 
viruses, worms do not require human involvement to propagate. 

Type of attack: Spyware; 
Description: Malware installed without the user's knowledge to 
surreptitiously track and/or transmit data to an unauthorized third 
party. 

Type of attack: War-dialing; 
Description: Simple program that dial consecutive phone numbers looking 
for a modem. 

Type of attack: War-driving; 
Description: A method of gaining entry into wireless computer networks 
using a laptop, antennas, and a wireless network adaptor that involves 
patrolling locations to gain unauthorized access. 

Type of attack: Spamming; 
Description: Sending unsolicited commercial e-mail advertising for 
products, services, and Web sites. Spam can also be sued as a delivery 
mechanism for malicious software and other cyber threats. 

Type of attack: Phishing; 
Description: A high-tech scam that frequently uses spam or pop-up 
messages to deceive people into disclosing sensitive information. 
Internet scammers use e-mail bait to "phish" for passwords and 
financial information from the sea of internet users. 

Type of attack: Spoofing; 
Description: Creating a fraudulent Web site to mimic an actual, well-
known site run by another party. E-mail spoofing occurs when the sender 
address and other parts of an e-mail header are altered to appear as 
though the e-mail originated from a different source. Spoofing hides 
the origin of an e-mail message. 

Type of attack: Pharming; 
Description: A method used by phishers to deceive users into believing 
that they are communicating with a legitimate Web site. Pharming uses a 
variety of technical methods to redirect a user to a fraudulent or 
spoofed Web site when the user types a legitimate Web address. 

Type of attack: Botnet; 
Description: A network of remotely controlled systems used to 
coordinate attacks and distribute malware, spam, and phishing scams. 
Bots (short for "robots") are programs that are covertly installed on a 
targeted system allowing an unauthorized user to remotely control the 
compromised computer for a variety of malicious purposes. 

Source: GAO. 

[End of table] 

Government officials are increasingly concerned about the potential for 
a cyber attack. According to the Director of National Intelligence, 
[Footnote 7] the growing connectivity between information systems, the 
Internet, and other infrastructures creates opportunities for attackers 
to disrupt telecommunications, electrical power, and other critical 
infrastructures. As government, private sector, and personal activities 
continue to move to networked operations, as digital systems add ever 
more capabilities, as wireless systems become more ubiquitous, and as 
the design, manufacture, and service of IT have moved overseas, the 
threat will continue to grow. Over the past year, cyber exploitation 
activity has grown more sophisticated, more targeted, and more serious. 
For example, the Director of National Intelligence also stated that, in 
August 2008, the Georgian national government's Web sites were disabled 
during hostilities with Russia, which hindered the government's ability 
to communicate its perspective about the conflict. The director expects 
disruptive cyber activities to become the norm in future political and 
military conflicts. 

Reported Security Incidents Are on the Rise: 

Perhaps reflective of the evolving and growing nature of the threats to 
federal systems, agencies are reporting an increasing number of 
security incidents. These incidents put sensitive information at risk. 
Personally identifiable information about Americans has been lost, 
stolen, or improperly disclosed, thereby potentially exposing those 
individuals to loss of privacy, identity theft, and financial crimes. 
Reported attacks and unintentional incidents involving critical 
infrastructure systems demonstrate that a serious attack could be 
devastating. Agencies have experienced a wide range of incidents 
involving data loss or theft, computer intrusions, and privacy 
breaches, underscoring the need for improved security practices. 

When incidents occur, agencies are to notify the federal information 
security incident center--US-CERT. As shown in figure 1, the number of 
incidents reported by federal agencies to US-CERT has increased 
dramatically over the past 3 years, increasing from 5,503 incidents 
reported in fiscal year 2006 to 16,843 incidents in fiscal year 2008 
(about a 206 percent increase). 

Figure 1: Incidents Reported to US-CERT in Fiscal Years 2006 through 
2008: 

[Refer to PDF for image: vertical bar graph] 

Fiscal year: 2006; 
Number of incidents reported: 5,503. 

Fiscal year: 2007; 
Number of incidents reported: 11,910. 

Fiscal year: 2008; 
Number of incidents reported: 16,842. 

Source: GAO analysis of US-CERT data. 

[End of figure] 

Incidents are categorized by US-CERT in the following manner: 

* Unauthorized access: In this category, an individual gains logical or 
physical access without permission to a federal agency's network, 
system, application, data, or other resource. 

* Denial of service: An attack that successfully prevents or impairs 
the normal authorized functionality of networks, systems, or 
applications by exhausting resources. This activity includes being the 
victim or participating in a denial of service attack. 

* Malicious code: Successful installation of malicious software (e.g., 
virus, worm, Trojan horse, or other code-based malicious entity) that 
infects an operating system or application. Agencies are not required 
to report malicious logic that has been successfully quarantined by 
antivirus software. 

* Improper usage: A person violates acceptable computing use policies. 

* Scans/probes/attempted access: This category includes any activity 
that seeks to access or identify a federal agency computer, open ports, 
protocols, service, or any combination of these for later exploit. This 
activity does not directly result in a compromise or denial of service. 

* Investigation: Unconfirmed incidents that are potentially malicious 
or anomalous activity deemed by the reporting entity to warrant further 
review. 

As noted in figure 2, the three most prevalent types of incidents 
reported to US-CERT during fiscal years 2006 through 2008 were 
unauthorized access, improper usage, and investigation. 

Figure 2: Percentage of Incidents Reported to US-CERT in FY06-FY08 by 
Category: 

[Refer to PDF for image: pie-chart] 

Percentage of Incidents Reported to US-CERT in FY06-FY08 by Category: 
Investigation: 34%; 
Improper Usage: 22%; 
Unauthorized Access: 18%; 
Malicious Code: 14%; 
Scans/Probes/Attempted Access: 12%; 
Denial of Service: 1%. 

Source: GAO analysis of US-CERT data. 

[End of figure] 

Vulnerabilities Pervade Federal Information Systems: 

The growing threats and increasing number of reported incidents, 
highlight the need for effective information security policies and 
practices. However, serious and widespread information security control 
deficiencies continue to place federal assets at risk of inadvertent or 
deliberate misuse, financial information at risk of unauthorized 
modification or destruction, sensitive information at risk of 
inappropriate disclosure, and critical operations at risk of 
disruption. 

In their fiscal year 2008 performance and accountability reports, 20 of 
24 major agencies indicated that inadequate information system controls 
over financial systems and information were either a significant 
deficiency or a material weakness for financial statement reporting 
(see figure 3).[Footnote 8] 

Figure 3: Number of Major Agencies Reporting Significant Deficiencies 
in Information Security: 

[Refer to PDF for image pie-chart] 

Number of Major Agencies Reporting Significant Deficiencies in 
Information Security: 
Significant deficiency: 13 agencies; 
Material weakness: 7 agencies; 
No significant weakness: 4 agencies. 

Source: GAO analysis of agency performance and accountability reports 
for FY2008. 

[End of figure] 

Similarly, our audits have identified control deficiencies in both 
financial and nonfinancial systems, including vulnerabilities in 
critical federal systems. For example: 

* We reported in September 2008[Footnote 9] that although the Los 
Alamos National Laboratory (LANL)--one of the nation's weapons 
laboratories--implemented measures to enhance the information security 
of its unclassified network, vulnerabilities continued to exist in 
several critical areas, including (1) identifying and authenticating 
users of the network, (2) encrypting sensitive information, (3) 
monitoring and auditing compliance with security policies, (4) 
controlling and documenting changes to a computer system's hardware and 
software, and (5) restricting physical access to computing resources. 
As a result, sensitive information on the network--including 
unclassified controlled nuclear information, naval nuclear propulsion 
information, export control information, and personally identifiable 
information--were exposed to an unnecessary risk of compromise. 
Moreover, the risk was heightened because about 300 (or 44 percent) of 
688 foreign nationals who had access to the unclassified network as of 
May 2008 were from countries classified as sensitive by the Department 
of Energy, such as China, India, and Russia. 

* In May 2008[Footnote 10] we reported that the Tennessee Valley 
Authority (TVA)--a federal corporation and the nation's largest public 
power company that generates and transmits electricity using its 52 
fossil, hydro, and nuclear power plants and transmission facilities-- 
had not fully implemented appropriate security practices to secure the 
control systems used to operate its critical infrastructures. Both its 
corporate network infrastructure and control systems networks and 
devices at individual facilities and plants were vulnerable to 
disruption. In addition, the interconnections between TVA's control 
system networks and its corporate network increased the risk that 
security weaknesses, on the corporate network could affect control 
systems networks and we determined that the control systems were at 
increased risk of unauthorized modification or disruption by both 
internal and external threats. These deficiencies placed TVA at 
increased and unnecessary risk of being unable to respond properly to a 
major disruption resulting from an intended or unintended cyber 
incident, which could then, in turn, affect the agency's operations and 
its customers. 

Weaknesses Persist in All Major Categories of Controls: 

Vulnerabilities in the form of inadequate information system controls 
have been found repeatedly in our prior reports as well as IG and 
agency reports. These weaknesses fall into five major categories of 
information system controls: (1) access controls, which ensure that 
only authorized individuals can read, alter, or delete data; (2) 
configuration management controls, which provide assurance that 
security features for hardware and software are identified and 
implemented and that changes to that configuration are systematically 
controlled; (3) segregation of duties, which reduces the risk that one 
individual can independently perform inappropriate actions without 
detection; (4) continuity of operations planning, which provides for 
the prevention of significant disruptions of computer-dependent 
operations; and (5) an agencywide information security program, which 
provides the framework for ensuring that risks are understood and that 
effective controls are selected and properly implemented. Figure 4 
shows the number of major agencies with weaknesses in these five areas. 

Figure 4: Number of Major Agencies Reporting Weaknesses by Control 
Category for Fiscal Year 2008: 

[Refer to PDF for image: vertical bar graph] 

Information security weakness category: Access control; 
Number of agencies: 23. 

Information security weakness category: Configuration management; 
Number of agencies: 21. 

Information security weakness category: Segregation of duties; 
Number of agencies: 14. 

Information security weakness category: Continuity of operations; 
Number of agencies: 17. 

Information security weakness category: Security management; 
Number of agencies: 23. 

Source: GAO analysis of IG, agency, and prior GAO reports. 

[End of figure] 

Over the last several years, most agencies have not implemented 
controls to sufficiently prevent, limit, or detect access to computer 
networks, systems, or information. Our analysis of IG, agency, and our 
own reports uncovered that agencies did not have adequate controls in 
place to ensure that only authorized individuals could access or 
manipulate data on their systems and networks. To illustrate, 
weaknesses were reported in such controls at 23 of 24 major agencies 
for fiscal year 2008. For example, agencies did not consistently (1) 
identify and authenticate users to prevent unauthorized access, (2) 
enforce the principle of least privilege to ensure that authorized 
access was necessary and appropriate, (3) establish sufficient boundary 
protection mechanisms, (4) apply encryption to protect sensitive data 
on networks and portable devices, and (5) log, audit, and monitor 
security-relevant events. At least nine agencies also lacked effective 
controls to restrict physical access to information assets. We 
previously reported that many of the data losses occurring at federal 
agencies over the past few years were a result of physical thefts or 
improper safeguarding of systems, including laptops and other portable 
devices. 

In addition, agencies did not always configure network devices and 
services to prevent unauthorized access and ensure system integrity, 
patch key servers and workstations in a timely manner, or segregate 
incompatible duties to different individuals or groups so that one 
individual does not control all aspects of a process or transaction. 
Furthermore, agencies did not always ensure that continuity of 
operations plans contained all essential information necessary to 
restore services in a timely manner. Weaknesses in these areas increase 
the risk of unauthorized use, disclosure, modification, or loss of 
information. 

An underlying cause for information security weaknesses identified at 
federal agencies is that they have not yet fully or effectively 
implemented key elements for an agencywide information security 
program. An agencywide security program, required by the Federal 
Information Security Management Act[Footnote 11], provides a framework 
and continuing cycle of activity for assessing and managing risk, 
developing and implementing security policies and procedures, promoting 
security awareness and training, monitoring the adequacy of the 
entity's computer-related controls through security tests and 
evaluations, and implementing remedial actions as appropriate. Our 
analysis determined that 23 of 24 major federal agencies had weaknesses 
in their agencywide information security programs. 

Due to the persistent nature of these vulnerabilities and associated 
risks, we continued to designate information security as a 
governmentwide high-risk issue in our most recent biennial report to 
Congress;[Footnote 12] a designation we have made in each report since 
1997. 

Opportunities Exist for Enhancing Federal Information Security: 

Over the past several years, we and the IGs have made hundreds of 
recommendations to agencies for actions necessary to resolve prior 
significant control deficiencies and information security program 
shortfalls. For example, we recommended that agencies correct specific 
information security deficiencies related to user identification and 
authentication, authorization, boundary protections, cryptography, 
audit and monitoring, physical security, configuration management, 
segregation of duties, and contingency planning. We have also 
recommended that agencies fully implement comprehensive, agencywide 
information security programs by correcting shortcomings in risk 
assessments, information security policies and procedures, security 
planning, security training, system tests and evaluations, and remedial 
actions. The effective implementation of these recommendations will 
strengthen the security posture at these agencies. 

In addition, the White House, the Office of Management and Budget 
(OMB), and certain federal agencies have continued or launched several 
governmentwide initiatives that are intended to enhance information 
security at federal agencies. These key initiatives are discussed 
below. 

* Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative: In January 2008, 
President Bush began to implement a series of initiatives aimed 
primarily at improving the Department of Homeland Security and other 
federal agencies' efforts to protect against intrusion attempts and 
anticipate future threats.[Footnote 13] While these initiatives have 
not been made public, the Director of National Intelligence stated that 
they include defensive, offensive, research and development, and 
counterintelligence efforts, as well as a project to improve public/ 
private partnerships.[Footnote 14] 

* The Information Systems Security Line of Business: The goal of this 
initiative, led by OMB, is to improve the level of information systems 
security across government agencies and reduce costs by sharing common 
processes and functions for managing information systems security. 
Several agencies have been designated as service providers for IT 
security awareness training and FISMA reporting. 

* Federal Desktop Core Configuration: For this initiative, OMB directed 
agencies that have Windows XP deployed and plan to upgrade to Windows 
Vista operating systems to adopt the security configurations developed 
by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Department of 
Defense, and Department of Homeland Security. The goal of this 
initiative is to improve information security and reduce overall IT 
operating costs. 

* SmartBUY: This program, led by the General Services Administration, 
is to support enterprise-level software management through the 
aggregate buying of commercial software governmentwide in an effort to 
achieve cost savings through volume discounts. The SmartBUY initiative 
was expanded to include commercial off-the-shelf encryption software 
and to permit all federal agencies to participate in the program. The 
initiative is to also include licenses for information assurance. 

* Trusted Internet Connections Initiative: This is an effort designed 
to optimize individual agency network services into a common solution 
for the federal government. The initiative is to facilitate the 
reduction of external connections, including Internet points of 
presence, to a target of 50. 

We currently have ongoing work that addresses the status, planning, and 
implementation efforts of several of these initiatives. 

In summary, the threats to federal information systems are evolving and 
growing, and federal systems are not sufficiently protected to 
consistently thwart the threats. Unintended incidents and attacks from 
individuals and groups with malicious intent, such as criminals, 
terrorists, and adversarial foreign nations, have the potential to 
cause significant damage to the ability of agencies to effectively 
perform their missions, deliver services to constituents, and account 
for their resources. Opportunities exist to improve information 
security at federal agencies. The White House, OMB, and certain federal 
agencies have initiated efforts that are intended to strengthen the 
protection of federal information and information systems. Until such 
opportunities are seized and fully exploited, and agencies fully and 
effectively implement the hundreds of recommendations by us and by IGs 
to mitigate information security control deficiencies and implement 
agencywide information security programs, federal information and 
systems will remain vulnerable. 

Chairwoman Watson, this concludes my statement. I would be happy to 
answer questions at the appropriate time. 

Contact and Acknowledgments: 

If you have any questions regarding this report, please contact Gregory 
C. Wilshusen, Director, Information Security Issues, at (202) 512-6244 
or wilshuseng@gao.gov. Other key contributors to this report include 
Charles Vrabel (Assistant Director), Larry Crosland, Neil Doherty, 
Rebecca LaPaze, and Jayne Wilson. 

[End of section] 

Footnotes: 

[1] The 24 major departments and agencies are the Departments of 
Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human 
Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, the 
Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, the Treasury, and 
Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, General Services 
Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National 
Science Foundation, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Office of Personnel 
Management, Small Business Administration, Social Security 
Administration, and U.S. Agency for International Development. 

[2] GAO, Critical Infrastructure Protection: Multiple Efforts to Secure 
Control Systems Are Under Way, but Challenges Remain, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-07-1036] (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 10, 
2007). 

[3] "Malware" (malicious software) is defined as programs that are 
designed to carry out annoying or harmful actions. They often 
masquerade as useful programs or are embedded into useful programs so 
that users are induced into activating them. 

[4] Statement of the Director of National Intelligence before the 
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Annual Threat Assessment of 
the Intelligence Community for the Senate Select Committee on 
Intelligence (Feb. 12, 2009). 

[5] GAO, Cybercrime: Public and Private Entities Face Challenges is 
Addressing Cyber Threats, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-07-705] (Washington, D.C.: June 22, 
2007). 

[6] [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-07-705] and GAO, 
Technology Assessment: Cybersecurity for Critical Infrastructure 
Protection, [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-04-321] 
(Washington, D.C.: May 28, 2004). 

[7] Statement of the Director of National Intelligence before the 
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Annual Threat Assessment of 
the Intelligence Community for the Senate Select Committee on 
Intelligence (Feb. 12, 2009). 

[8] A material weakness is a significant deficiency, or combination of 
significant deficiencies, that results in more than a remote likelihood 
that a material misstatement of the financial statements will not be 
prevented or detected. A significant deficiency is a control 
deficiency, or combination of control deficiencies, that adversely 
affects the entity's ability to initiate, authorize, record, process, 
or report financial data reliably in accordance with generally accepted 
accounting principles such that there is more than a remote likelihood 
that a misstatement of the entity's financial statements that is more 
than inconsequential will not be prevented or detected. A control 
deficiency exists when the design or operation of a control does not 
allow management or employees, in the normal course of performing their 
assigned functions, to prevent or detect misstatements on a timely 
basis. 

[9] GAO, Information Security: Actions Needed to Better Protect Lost 
Alamos National Laboratory's Unclassified Computer Network, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-1001] (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 9, 
2008). 

[10] GAO, Information Security: TVA Needs to Address Weaknesses in 
Control Systems and Networks, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-526] (Washington, D.C.: May 21, 
2008). 

[11] Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002, Title III, E- 
Government Act of 2002, Pub. L. No. 107-347, 116 Stat. 2899, 2946 (Dec. 
17, 2002). 

[12] GAO, High-Risk Series: An Update, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-271] (Washington, D.C.: January 
2009). 

[13] The White House, National Security Presidential Directive 54/ 
Homeland Security Presidential Directive 23 (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 8, 
2008). 

[14] Statement of the Director of National Intelligence before the 
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Annual Threat Assessment of 
the Intelligence Community for the Senate Select Committee on 
Intelligence (Feb. 12, 2009). 

[End of section] 

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