Index

Critical Infrastructure Protection: Fundamental Improvements Needed to
Assure Security of Federal Operations (Testimony, 10/06/1999,
GAO/T-AIMD-00-7).

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the computer security
aspects of critical infrastructure protection, focusing on federal
agency performance in addressing computer security issues.

GAO noted that: (1) reports issued by GAO and various Inspectors General
over the last 5 years describe persistent computer security weaknesses
that place federal operations at risk of disruption, fraud, and
inappropriate disclosures; (2) GAO's most recent analysis, of reports
issued during fiscal year 1999, identified significant computer security
weaknesses in 22 of the largest federal agencies; (3) these included
weaknesses in: (a) controls over access to sensitive systems and data;
(b) controls over software development and changes; and (c) continuity
of service plans; (4) this body of audit evidence led GAO, in February
1997 and again in January 1999, to designate information security as a
governmentwide high-risk area in reports to Congress; (5) while a number
of factors have contributed to weak federal information security, the
fundamental underlying problem is poor security program management; (6)
weaknesses continue to surface because agencies have not implemented a
management framework for overseeing information security on an
agencywide and ongoing basis; (7) to provide greater assurance that
critical infrastructure objectives can be met, GAO believes that actions
are needed in seven key areas; (8) it is important that the federal
strategy delineate the roles and responsibilities of the numerous
entities involved in federal information security and related aspects of
critical infrastructure protection; (9) agencies need more specific
guidance on the controls that they need to implement; (10) implementing
such standards for federal agencies would require developing: (a) a
single set of information classification categories for use by all
agencies to define the criticality and sensitivity of the various types
of information they maintain; and (b) minimum mandatory requirements for
protecting information in each classification category; (11) routine
periodic audits must be implemented to allow for meaningful performance
measurement; (12) it is important for agencies to have the technical
expertise they need to select, implement, and maintain controls that
protect their computer systems; (13) agencies must have resources
sufficient to support their computer security and infrastructure
protection activities; and (14) there is a need to more comprehensively
monitor and develop responses to intrusions, viruses, and other
incidents that threaten federal systems.

--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------

 REPORTNUM:  T-AIMD-00-7
     TITLE:  Critical Infrastructure Protection: Fundamental
	     Improvements Needed to Assure Security of Federal
	     Operations
      DATE:  10/06/1999
   SUBJECT:  Computer security
	     Hackers
	     Information systems
	     Computer crimes
	     Information resources management
	     Data encryption
	     Internal controls
IDENTIFIER:  NIST Federal Computer Incident Response Capability Program
	     Y2K

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Before the Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government
Information, Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate

For Release on Delivery
Expected at
10 a.m.
Wednesday,
October 6, 1999

CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE PROTECTION

Fundamental Improvements Needed to Assure Security of Federal Operations

Statement of Jack L. Brock, Jr.
Director, Governmentwide and Defense Information Systems
Accounting and Information Management Division
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GAO/T-AIMD-00-7

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

We are pleased to be here today to discuss the "cyber," or computer
security aspects of critical infrastructure protection. Since the early
1990s, an explosion in computer interconnectivity, most notably growth in
use of the Internet, has revolutionized the way our government, our
nation, and much of the world communicate and conduct business. The
benefits have been enormous in terms of facilitating communications,
business processes, and access to information. However, without proper
safeguards, this widespread interconnectivity poses enormous risks to our
computer systems and, more importantly, to the critical operations and
infrastructures they support including telecommunications, power
distribution, emergency services, law enforcement, national defense, and
other government services. 

Today, I will focus on federal agency performance in addressing computer
security issues. Recent audits by GAO and agency inspectors general (IG)
show that our government is not adequately protecting critical federal
operations and assets from computer-based attacks. These audits show that
22 of the largest federal agencies have significant computer security
weaknesses. Addressing this widespread and persistent problem requires
significant management attention and action within individual agencies as
well as increased coordination and oversight at the governmentwide level.
I will now provide greater detail on these problems and discuss broader
issues that need to be considered as a national strategy for critical
infrastructure protection is being considered. 

Weak Controls Place Federal Programs at Risk

GAO and IG reports issued over the last 5 years describe persistent
computer security weaknesses that place federal operations such as
national defense, law enforcement, air traffic control, and benefit
payments at risk of disruption as well as fraud and inappropriate
disclosures./Footnote1/ Our most recent analysis, of reports issued during
fiscal year 1999, identified significant computer security weaknesses in
22 of the largest federal agencies./Footnote2/ These included weaknesses
in (1) controls over access to sensitive systems and data, (2) controls
over software development and changes, and (3) continuity of service
plans. These types of weaknesses increase the risk that intruders or
authorized users with malicious intentions could read, modify, delete, or
otherwise damage information or disrupt operations for purposes, such as
fraud, sabotage, or espionage. This body of audit evidence led us, in
February 1997 and again in January 1999, to designate information security
as a governmentwide high-risk area in reports to the Congress./Footnote3/

Examples of these weaknesses and the risks they present include the
following.

o In May 1999, we reported that, as part of our tests of the National
  Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) computer-based controls,
  we successfully penetrated several mission-critical systems. Having
  obtained access, we could have disrupted NASA's ongoing command and
  control operations and stolen, modified, or destroyed system software
  and data./Footnote4/

o In August 1999, we reported that serious weaknesses in Department of
  Defense (DOD) information security continue to provide both hackers and
  hundreds of thousands of authorized users the opportunity to modify,
  steal, inappropriately disclose, and destroy sensitive DOD data. These
  weaknesses impair DOD's ability to (1) control physical and electronic
  access to its systems and data, (2) ensure that software running on its
  systems is properly authorized, tested, and functioning as intended,
  (3) limit employees' ability to perform incompatible functions, and (4)
  resume operations in the event of a disaster. As a result, numerous
  Defense functions, including weapons and supercomputer research,
  logistics, finance, procurement, personnel management, military health,
  and payroll, have already been adversely affected by system attacks or
  fraud./Footnote5/

o In July 1999, we reported that the Department of Agriculture's (USDA)
  National Finance Center (NFC) had serious access control weaknesses
  that affected its ability to prevent and/or detect unauthorized changes
  to payroll and other payment data or computer software. NFC develops
  and operates administrative and financial systems, including
  payroll/personnel, property management, and accounting systems for both
  the USDA and more than 60 other federal organizations. During fiscal
  year 1998, NFC processed more than $19 billion in payroll payments for
  more than 450,000 federal employees. NFC is also responsible for
  maintaining records for the world's largest 401(k)-type program, the
  federal Thrift Savings Program. This program, which is growing at about
  $1 billion per month, covers about 2.3 million employees and totaled
  more than $60 billion as of September 30, 1998./Footnote6/ The
  weaknesses we identified increased the risk that users could cause
  improper payments and that sensitive information could be misused,
  improperly disclosed, or destroyed. 

o In October 1999, we reported that Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
  systems continued to be vulnerable to unauthorized access./Footnote7/
  VA operates the largest healthcare delivery system in the United States
  and reported spending more than $17 billion on medical care in fiscal
  year 1998. The department also processed more than 42 million benefit
  payments totaling about $22 billion in fiscal year 1998 and provided
  life insurance protection through more than 2.4 million policies that
  represented about $23 billion in coverage. In providing these benefits
  and services, VA collects and maintains sensitive medical record and
  benefit payment information for veterans and their family members. GAO,
  as well as the VA IG, continued to find serious problems that placed
  sensitive information at increased risk of inadvertent or deliberate
  misuse, fraudulent use, improper disclosure, or destruction, possibly
  occurring without detection. For example, at one VA insurance center,
  265 users who had not been authorized access had the ability to read,
  write, and delete information related to insurance awards. Such
  unauthorized access could lead to improper insurance payments. 

Poor Security Program Management Is the Fundamental Cause of Poor Computer
Security

While a number of factors have contributed to weak federal information
security, such as insufficient understanding of risks, technical staff
shortages, and a lack of system and security architectures, the
fundamental underlying problem is poor security program management. We
reported on this problem in 1996 and, again, in 1998,/Footnote8/ noting
that agency managers are not ensuring, on an ongoing basis, that risks are
identified and addressed and that controls are operating as intended. In
many cases, senior agency officials have not recognized that computer-
supported operations are integral to carrying out their missions and that
they can no longer relegate the security of these operations solely to
lower-level technical specialists. For these reasons, it is essential that
this fundamental problem be addressed as part of an effective information
technology management strategy, which will also serve to strengthen
critical infrastructure protection.

Agencies have responded to scores of recommendations for improvement made
by us and by agency inspectors general. However, similar weaknesses
continue to surface because agencies have not implemented a management
framework for overseeing information security on an agencywide and ongoing
basis. Instead, there is a tendency to react to individual audit findings
as they are reported, with little ongoing attention to the systemic causes
of control weaknesses. 

To identify potential solutions to this problem, we studied the security
management practices of eight nonfederal organizations known for their
superior security programs. We found that these organizations managed
their information security risks through a cycle of risk management
activities./Footnote9/ The basic framework-built on 16 specific practices-
allows risk management through an ongoing cycle of activities coordinated
by a central focal point. The management process involves

o assessing risk to determine information security needs;

o developing and implementing policies and controls that meet these needs;

o promoting awareness to ensure that risks, roles, and responsibilities
  are understood; and

o instituting an ongoing program of tests and evaluations to ensure that
  policies and controls are appropriate and effective.

Figure****Helvetica:x11****1:    The Risk Management
                                 Cycle
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The guide is generally consistent with OMB and NIST guidance on
information security program management, and it has been endorsed by the
Chief Information Officers (CIO) Council as a useful resource for agency
managers. 

One agency that has illustrated the value of these management practices in
strengthening computer security is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). IRS
has made significant progress by acknowledging the seriousness of its
computer security weaknesses, consolidating overall responsibility for
computer security management, reevaluating its approach to computer
security management, and developing a high-level plan for mitigating the
identified weaknesses./Footnote10/ 

A Comprehensive Strategy for Improvement Is Needed

While adopting the practices recommended by the guide can better prepare
agencies to protect their systems, detect attacks, and react to security
breaches, other actions are also needed to improve oversight and otherwise
address the problem from a governmentwide perspective. 

Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) 63, issued in May 1998, recognized
that addressing computer-based risks to our nation's critical
infrastructures requires an approach that involves coordination and
cooperation across federal agencies and among public and private-sector
entities and other nations. In this regard, PDD 63 established several
entities to coordinate infrastructure protection efforts./Footnote11/
However, the details of the PDD's approach have not been finalized. As a
result, a major objective of PDD 
63 to make the federal government "a model to the private sector on how
best to protect critical infrastructure," has not been realized nor is it
clear how this objective will be met.

To provide greater assurance that critical infrastructure objectives can
be met, we believe that actions are needed in seven key areas. I will
briefly discuss each of these.

Clearly Defined Roles and Responsibilities
------------------------------------------

First, it is important that the federal strategy delineate the roles and
responsibilities of the numerous entities involved in federal information
security and related aspects of critical infrastructure protection. Under
current law, OMB is responsible for overseeing and coordinating federal
agency security; and the National Institute of Standards and Technology
(NIST), with assistance from the National Security Agency (NSA), is
responsible for establishing related standards./Footnote12/ In addition,
interagency bodies, such as the CIO Council and the entities created under
PDD 63 are attempting to coordinate agency initiatives.

While these organizations have developed fundamentally sound policies and
guidance and have undertaken potentially useful initiatives, effective
improvements are not taking place. This is due, in part, to the relative
immaturity of the recently established processes. It is also unclear how
the activities of these many organizations interrelate, who should be held
accountable for their success or failure, and whether they will
effectively and efficiently support national goals.

Constraints on resources and the urgency of the problem require that
government activities are designed and coordinated to achieve clearly
understood goals. There must also be clear linkage between policy
guidance, technical standards, and agency practices to ensure
responsibility/accountability for actual improvements.

Specific Risk-Based Standards
-----------------------------

Second, agencies need more specific guidance on the controls that they
need to implement. Currently agencies have wide discretion in deciding
(1) what computer security controls to implement and (2) the level of
rigor with which they enforce these controls. In theory, this is
appropriate since, as OMB and NIST guidance states, the level of
protection that agencies provide should be commensurate with the risk to
agency operations and assets. In essence, one set of specific controls
will not be appropriate for all types of systems and data. 

However, our studies of best practices at leading organizations have shown
that more specific guidance is important. In particular, specific
mandatory standards for varying risk levels can clarify expectations for
information protection, including audit criteria; provide a standard
framework for assessing information security risk; and help ensure that
shared data are appropriately protected. Implementing such standards for
federal agencies would require developing (1) a single set of information
classification categories for use by all agencies to define the
criticality and sensitivity of the various types of information they
maintain and (2) minimum mandatory requirements for protecting information
in each classification category. 

Routine Evaluations of Agency Performance
-----------------------------------------

Third, routine periodic audits must be implemented to allow for meaningful
performance measurement. A requirement for periodic examinations of
controls in operation would significantly strengthen oversight
requirements in the Computer Security Act, which focus on evaluating
agency security plans, rather than practices. 

Ensuring effective implementation of agency information security and
critical infrastructure protection plans will require monitoring to
determine if milestones are being met and testing to determine if policies
and controls are operating as intended. Evaluations at several levels can
be beneficial. Tests initiated by agency officials are essential because
they provide information needed to fulfill their ongoing responsibility
for managing security programs. Evaluations initiated by independent
auditors, such as agency inspectors general, can serve as an independent
check on management evaluations and provide useful information for
congressional and executive branch oversight. Summary evaluations
performed by entities such as OMB, GAO, or the CIO Council can provide a
governmentwide view of progress and help identify crosscutting problems. 

At present, there is no requirement for periodic independently initiated
tests and evaluations of agency computer security programs. As a result,
information for measuring the effectiveness of agency security programs,
and thus, holding agency managers accountable is limited. While some
control testing is done in support of annual independent financial
statement audits, ensuring routine periodic testing of all critical agency
systems-both financial and nonfinancial-may require new legislation. 

Executive Branch and Congressional Oversight
--------------------------------------------

Fourth, the executive branch and the Congress must effectively use audit
results and performance measures to monitor agency performance and take
whatever action is deemed advisable to remedy identified problems. Such
oversight is essential to hold agencies accountable for their performance
and was demonstrated by the recent OMB and congressional efforts to
oversee the Year 2000 challenge. 

Adequate Technical Expertise
----------------------------

Fifth, it is important for agencies to have the technical expertise they
need to select, implement, and maintain controls that protect their
computer systems. Similarly, the federal government must maximize the
value of its technical staff by sharing expertise and information. The
Computer Security Act authorized NIST to provide assistance to agencies
and included provisions for periodic training in computer security
awareness and practice. However, as the Year 2000 challenge showed, the
availability of adequate technical expertise has been a continuing concern
to agencies. 

A number of programs and recommendations have been proposed that merit
congressional study. For example, prompted in part by concerns over
technical staff shortages affecting Year 2000 efforts, the CIO Council's
Education and Training committee studied ways to help agencies recruit and
retain information technology personnel. The resulting report provides an
extensive description of the current status of federal information
technology employment, improvement efforts currently underway, and
detailed proposals for action.

Adequate Funding
----------------

Sixth, agencies must have resources sufficient to support their computer
security and infrastructure protection activities. Funding for security is
already embedded to some extent in agency budgets for computer system
development efforts and routine network and system management and
maintenance. However, some additional amounts are likely to be needed to
address specific weaknesses and new tasks. Also, addressing the Year 2000
challenge has resulted in postponement of many program and information
technology initiatives-including system enhancements and computer
security./Footnote13/ OMB and congressional oversight of future spending
on computer security will be important to ensure that agencies are not
using the funds they receive to continue ad hoc, piece-meal security fixes
not supported by a strong agency risk management framework. 

Incident Response and Coordination
----------------------------------

Seventh, there is a need to more comprehensively monitor and develop
responses to intrusions, viruses, and other incidents that threaten
federal systems. Several entities are already providing some central
coordination in this area-including the FBI, NIST, and the
FedCIRC./Footnote14/ However, the specific roles and responsibilities of
these organizations, as well as the balance between governmentwide and
individual agency responsibilities, should be clarified and expanded to
provide a more comprehensive picture of the security events that are
occurring and assistance in dealing with them.

Such efforts can take several forms that provide differing benefits. For
example, a governmentwide response center could provide immediate
emergency assistance to agencies experiencing intrusions or other
potential problems. It could also provide assistance on a nonemergency
basis, especially by alerting agencies to new threats and vulnerabilities
and helping them identify actions to prevent or mitigate incidents. By
calling on a center for such assistance, agencies could tap into a source
of specialized expertise that may be difficult and expensive to maintain
at the individual agency level. A governmentwide center could also serve
as clearinghouse of information on incidents that would be available to
federal agencies and the public. Such information can be valuable in
estimating the significance of different types of information security
risks. For example, when the Melissa virus surfaced earlier this year, we
found that there was no single place to obtain complete data on what
agencies were hit and how they were affected. Moreover, there were no data
available that quantified the impact of the virus in terms of productivity
lost or the value of data lost.

Finally, it is important to recognize that, by itself, a central
clearinghouse is not complete solution for the information security
problems across the federal government. Agencies themselves must still use
this information effectively to assess risks to their own computer-
supported operations and to develop and implement sound management controls.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I want to stress that there are no simple
solutions to improving computer security throughout the government. What
is clear is that a bottom-up approach will not work. To begin to meet the
lofty goal of PDD 63-making the government a model-will require sustained
top management support, consistent oversight, and additional levels of
technical and funding support. Taking steps to address the issues outlined
in my statement could help the government put its own house in order and
more effectively work with the private sector to protect critical
infrastructures. This concludes my testimony. I will be happy to answer
any questions you or Members of the Subcommittee may have.

(511065)

--------------------------------------
/Footnote1/-^Information Security: Opportunities for Improved OMB
  Oversight of Agency Practices (GAO/AIMD-96-110, September 24, 1996),
  Information Security: Serious Weaknesses Place Critical Federal
  Operations and Assets at Risk (GAO/AIMD-98-92, September 23, 1998). 
/Footnote2/-^Critical Infrastructure Protection: Comprehensive Strategy
  Can Draw on Year 2000 Experiences (GAO/AIMD-00-01, October 1, 1999).
/Footnote3/-^High Risk Series: Information Management and Technology
  (GAO/HR-97-9, February 1997) and High Risk Series: An Update (GAO/HR-99-
  1, January 1999).
/Footnote4/-^Information Security: Many NASA Mission-Critical Systems Face
  Serious Risks (GAO/AIMD-99-47, May 20, 1999).
/Footnote5/-^DOD Information Security: Serious Weaknesses Continue to
  Place Defense Operations at Risk (GAO/AIMD-99-107, August 26, 1999).
/Footnote6/-^USDA Information Security: Weaknesses at National Finance
  Center Increase Risk of Fraud, Misuse, and Improper Disclosure (GAO/AIMD-
  99-227, July 30, 1999).
/Footnote7/-^Information Systems: The Status of Computer Security at the
  Department of Veterans Affairs (GAO/AIMD-00-05, October 4, 1999).
/Footnote8/-^GAO/AIMD-96-110, September 24, 1996, and GAO/AIMD-98-92,
  September 23, 1998.
/Footnote9/-^Information Security Management: Learning From Leading
  Organizations (GAO/AIMD-98-68, May 1998).
/Footnote10/-^IRS Systems Security: Although Significant Improvements
  Made, Tax Processing Operations and Data Still at Serious Risk (GAO/AIMD-
  99-38, December 14, 1998).
/Footnote11/-^In May 1998, PDD 63 created several new entities in the
  National Security Council, the Department of Commerce, and the Federal
  Bureau of Investigation which also have responsibility for guiding and
  overseeing and coordinating agency security with a focus on critical
  infrastructure protection. 
/Footnote12/-^The Computer Security Act and the Paperwork Reduction Act.
/Footnote13/-^Year 2000 Computing Challenge: Estimated Costs, Planned Uses
  of Emergency Funding, and Future Implications (GAO/T-AIMD-99-214, June
  22, 1999).
/Footnote14/-^FedCIRC-the Federal Computer Incident Response Capability-is
  a reporting center at the General Services Administration.

*** End of document. ***