Information Security:

Veterans Affairs Needs to Address Long-Standing Weaknesses

GAO-07-532T: Published: Feb 28, 2007. Publicly Released: Feb 28, 2007.

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Gregory C. Wilshusen
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Security breaches at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and other public and private organizations have highlighted the importance of well-designed and implemented information security programs. GAO was asked to testify on its past work on VA's information security program, as well as ongoing reviews that it is conducting at VA. In developing its testimony, GAO drew on over 15 of its previous reports and testimonies, as well as reports by the department's inspector general (IG).

For many years, GAO has raised significant concerns about VA's information security--particularly its lack of a comprehensive information security program, which is vital to safeguarding government information. The figure below details information security weaknesses that GAO identified from 1998 to 2005. VA had not consistently implemented appropriate controls for (1) limiting, preventing, and detecting electronic access to sensitive computerized information; (2) restricting physical access to computer and network equipment to authorized individuals; (3) segregating incompatible duties among separate groups or individuals; (4) ensuring that changes to computer software were authorized and timely; or (5) providing continuity of computerized systems and operations. The department's IG has also reported recurring weaknesses throughout VA in such areas as access controls, physical security, and segregation of incompatible duties. In response, the department has taken actions to address these weaknesses, but these have not been sufficient to establish a comprehensive information security programs. As a result, sensitive information has remained vulnerable to inadvertent or deliberate misuse, loss, or improper disclosure. Without an established and implemented security program, the department will continue to have major challenges in protecting its systems and information from security breaches. GAO has several ongoing engagements to review the department's efforts in improving its information security and information technology management. These engagements address data breach notification, actions to strengthen information security controls, controls over information technology equipment, and VA's information technology realignment effort.

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