Information Security:

Safeguarding of Data in Excessed Department of Energy Computers

GAO-01-469: Published: Mar 29, 2001. Publicly Released: Apr 4, 2001.

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The computer systems that support the Department of Energy's (DOE) civilian research and development programs house enormous amounts of data. Although unclassified, some of the information in these systems is nevertheless sensitive and must be protected from inappropriate access or disclosure. For this reason, DOE property management regulations require the agency to clear the hard drives of all computers before they are transferred into the excess category for reuse or disposal. GAO found that DOE lacks standardized instructions, verification procedures, and training for agency and contract employees on how to properly clear excessed computers. DOE also does not ensure that procedures used to remove all software, information, and data from systems are effective. As a result, some of the excessed computers GAO inspected at DOE headquarters had information still stored on the hard drives.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has developed a draft procedure that applies to all DOE headquarters and field elements. Its objectives include: (1) establishing minimum requirements for the clearing, sanitization, and destruction of automated information systems storage media, memory, and hardware that have contained classified information and (2) ensuring that all information has been removed from unclassified computer equipment. In addition, the draft procedure defines terms and establishes what needs to be done to clear, sanitize, or destroy storage media, memory, and hardware. As of July 2003, DOE officials stated that the draft procedure was revised in July 2003 to reflect changes in requirements and the Office of the CIO was working to schedule the policy for formal approval. In August 2004, a DOE official stated that this draft had been finalized and issued in February 2004 as "DOE N 205.12 Clearing, Sanitizing, and Destroying Information System Storage Media, Memory Devices, and Other Related Hardware".

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should develop and implement standardized written procedures on how to effectively clear hard drives of all software, information and data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has developed a draft procedure that applies to all DOE headquarters and field elements. For classified drives, the procedure outlines requirements for the independent verification that appropriate procedures have been followed and that classified information has been overwritten. For clearing and sanitizing unclassified computer equipment, the draft procedure states that DOE organizations must include in written procedures a method for independently verifying the process. As of July 2003, DOE officials stated that the draft procedure was revised in July 2003 to reflect changes in requirements and the Office of the CIO was working to schedule the policy for formal approval. In August 2004, a DOE official stated that this draft had been finalized and issued in February 2004 as "DOE N 205.12 Clearing, Sanitizing, and Destroying Information System Storage Media, Memory Devices, and Other Related Hardware".

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should require an independent verification that these procedures have been followed prior to turning in computers for excess to ensure that employees and contractor personnel of all DOE organizations are in compliance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has developed a draft procedure that applies to all DOE headquarters and field elements. The draft procedure states that local sanitization procedures must be addressed in each DOE organization's computer security training and awareness program. It also states that the heads of departmental elements are responsible for ensuring that personnel receive adequate training in both the requirements set forth in the procedures and the local sanitization procedures. As of July 2003, DOE officials stated that the draft procedure was revised in July 2003 to reflect changes in requirements and the Office of the CIO was working to schedule the policy for formal approval. In August 2004, a DOE official stated that this draft had been finalized and issued in February 2004 as "DOE N 205.12 Clearing, Sanitizing, and Destroying Information System Storage Media, Memory Devices, and Other Related Hardware".

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should emphasize these procedures in the computer security training and awareness program that is required for all DOE employees and contractor personnel.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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