Index

Information Security: "ILOVEYOU" Computer Virus Emphasizes Critical Need
for Agency and Governmentwide Improvements (Testimony, 05/10/2000,
GAO/T-AIMD-00-171).

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the "ILOVEYOU"
computer virus, focusing on the need for agency and governmentwide
improvements in information security.

GAO noted that: (1) ILOVEYOU is both a virus and a worm; (2) the damage
resulting from this particular hybrid is limited to users of the
Microsoft Windows operating system; (3) ILOVEYOU typically comes in the
form of an electronic mail (e-mail) message from someone the recipient
knows; (4) as long as recipients do not run the attached file, their
systems will not be affected and they need only to delete the e-mail and
its attachment; (5) if opened, the ILOVEYOU can spread and infect
systems by sending itself to everyone in the recipient's address book;
(6) there are areas of management and general control that are integral
to improving problems in information security; (7) most agencies do not
develop security plans for major systems based on risk, have not
formally documented security policies, and have not implemented programs
for testing and evaluating the effectiveness of controls they rely on;
(8) these are fundamental activities that allow an organization to
manage its information security risks cost-effectively rather than by
reacting to individual problems ad hoc; (9) agencies often lack
effective access controls to their computer resources and, as a result,
are unable to protect these assets against unauthorized modification,
loss, and disclosure; (10) these controls would normally include
physical protections such as gates and guards and logical controls,
which are controls built into software that: (a) require users to
authenticate themselves through passwords or other identifiers; and (b)
limit the files and other resources that an authenticated user can
access and the actions that he or she can take; (11) testing procedures
are undisciplined and do not ensure that implemented software operates
as intended, and access to software program libraries is inadequately
controlled; (12) GAO found that computer programmers and operators are
authorized to perform a wide variety of duties; (13) this, in turn,
provides them with the ability to independently modify, circumvent, and
disable system security features; (14) GAO's reviews frequently identify
systems with insufficiently restricted access to the powerful programs
and sensitive files associated with the computer system's operation;
(15) such free access makes it possible for knowledgeable individuals to
disable or circumvent controls; (16) service continuity controls are
incomplete and often not fully tested for ensuring that critical
operations can continue when unexpected events occur; and (17) agencies
can act immediately to address computer weaknesses and reduce their
vulnerability to computer attacks.

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

 REPORTNUM:  T-AIMD-00-171
     TITLE:  Information Security: "ILOVEYOU" Computer Virus Emphasizes
	     Critical Need for Agency and Governmentwide
	     Improvements
      DATE:  05/10/2000
   SUBJECT:  Computer networks
	     Computer security
	     Computer crimes
	     Information resources management
	     Electronic mail
	     Computer viruses
	     Internal controls
IDENTIFIER:  Internet
	     Melissa Computer Virus
	     ILOVEYOU Computer Virus

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   * For Release on Delivery
     Expected at
     10 a.m.

Wednesday,

May 10, 2000

GAO/T-AIMD-00-171

information security

"ILOVEYOU" Computer Virus Emphasizes Critical Need for Agency and
Governmentwide Improvements

        Statement of Keith A. Rhodes

Director, Office of Computer and Information Technology Assessment

Accounting and Information Management Division

Testimony

Before the Subcommittee on Technology, Committee on Science, House of
Representatives

United States General Accounting Office

GAO

Madam Chairwoman and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for inviting me to participate in today's hearing on the
"ILOVEYOU" computer virus. About this time last year, I testified before
this Subcommittee on the "Melissa" virus, which temporarily disrupted the
operations of some agencies by forcing them to shut down their e-mail
systems. At that hearing, I stressed that the next virus would likely
propagate faster, do more damage, and be more difficult to detect and
counter. This is just what we have experienced with ILOVEYOU. While it
looked a lot like Melissa in its operation, it moved much more swiftly, and
it appears to have caused as much, if not more, disruption.

Nevertheless, the lessons to be gleaned from both attacks are the same.
Federal agencies must implement vigorous security programs to enable them to
closely watch their information resources for signs of attack or intrusion
and to quickly react to such events when detected. Moreover, the government
as a whole must promptly implement long-term solutions that will ensure that
agencies focus on security from an organizationwide perspective and
implement a comprehensive set of security controls. It must also establish
central tracking and reporting mechanisms to facilitate analyses of these
and other forms of attacks and their impact.

The ILOVEYOU Worm/Virus and Its Immediate Impact

ILOVEYOU typically comes in the form of an e-mail message from someone the
recipient knows with an attachment called LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT.VBS. The
attachment is a Visual Basic Script (VBS) file. As long as recipients do not
run the attached file, their systems will not be affected and they need only
to delete the e-mail and its attachment. When opened and allowed to run,
however, ILOVEYOU attempts to

   * send copies of itself using Microsoft Outlook (an electronic mail
     software program) to all entries in all of the recipient's address
     books,
   * infect the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) program so that the next time a
     user starts "chatting" on the Internet, the worm can spread to everyone
     who connects to the chat server,
   * search for picture, video, and music files and overwrite or replace
     them with a copy of itself, and
   * install a password-stealing program that will become active when the
     recipient opens Internet Explorer and reboots the computer. (Internet
     accounts set up to collect this information were reportedly disabled
     early Friday).

In short, ILOVEYOU looks a lot like Melissa in operation: it comes via
e-mail; it attacks Microsoft's Outlook; it's a hybrid between a worm and a
virus; and it does some damage-but it mostly excels at using the infected
system to e-mail copies of itself to others. The one main difference is that
it proliferated much faster than Melissa because it came during the work
week, not the weekend. Moreover, ILOVEYOU sent itself to everyone on the
recipient's e-mail lists, rather than just the first 50 addressees as
Melissa did.

In fact, soon after initial reports of the worm/virus surfaced in Asia on
May 4, ILOVEYOU spread rapidly throughout the rest of the world. By 6 pm the
same day, Carnegie Mellon's CERT Coordination Center had received over 400
direct reports involving more than 420,000 Internet hosts. And by the next
day, ILOVEYOU appeared in new guises, labeled as "Mother's Day," "Joke,"
"Very Funny," among others. At least 14 different variants of the virus had
been identified by the weekend, according to DOD's Joint Task Force-Computer
Network Defense. These variations retriggered disruptions because they
allowed the worm/virus to bypass filters set up earlier to block ILOVEYOU.
At least one variant-with the subject header "VIRUS ALERT!!!"-was reportedly
even more dangerous than the original because it was also able to overwrite
system files critical to computing functions.

Reports from various media, government agencies, and computer security
experts indicate that the impact of ILOVEYOU was extensive. The virus
reportedly hit large corporations such as AT&T, TWA, and Ford Motor Company;
media outlets such as the Washington Post and ABC news; international
organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, the British
Parliament, and Belgium's banking system; state governments; school systems;
and credit unions, among many others, forcing them to take their networks
off-line for hours.

The virus/worm also reportedly penetrated at least 14 federal
agencies-including the Department of Defense (DOD), the Social Security
Administration, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Immigration and
Naturalization Service, the Department of Energy, the Department of
Agriculture, the Department of Education, the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration (NASA), along with the House and Senate. We still do not know
the full effect of this virus on the agencies that were penetrated. While
many were forced to shut down their e-mail networks for some time, many also
reported that mission-critical systems and operations were not affected. Of
course, if an agency's business depends on e-mail for decision-making and
service delivery, then the virus/worm probably had a significant impact on
day-to-day operations in terms of lost productivity.

It also appears that major efforts were required to control the virus. Based
on a discussion with military CERT representatives, for example, responding
to the virus/worm has been a tremendous task that took several days to get
under control. Some DOD machines required complete software reloads to
overcome the extent of the damage. The virus/worm spread rapidly through the
department, penetrating even some classified systems. DOD's operational
commands responded in widely varying ways-some made few changes to their
daily operational procedures while others cut off all e-mail communications
for an extended period of time. Representatives of DOD's Joint Task
Force-Computer Network Defense said that they will recommend new procedures
to better coordinate the department's response to future incidents, based on
experience with the ILOVEYOU virus/worm.

Virus/Worm Reiterates Challenge in Protecting Information Technology Assets
and Sensitive Data

While the ILOVEYOU worm/virus resulted in relatively limited damage in terms
of systems corrupted, the incident continues to underscore the formidable
challenge that the federal government faces in protecting its information
systems assets and sensitive data. It again shows, for example, that
computer attack tools and techniques are becoming increasingly
sophisticated; viruses are spreading faster as a result of the increasing
connectivity of today's networks; commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products
can be easily exploited for attack by all their users; and there is no
"silver bullet" solution to protecting systems, such as firewalls or
encryption.

Moreover, ILOVEYOU illustrates the difficulty of investigating cyber crime.
In particular, investigations of computer attacks such as ILOVEYOU must be
conducted on an international scale. Moreover, only the computer used to
launch the virus can be traced-not the programmer. Lastly, evidence is
fleeting-the more time that passes between the first attack and an arrest,
the more time the programmer has to destroy all links to the crime.

Additionally, ILOVEYOU once again proved that governmentwide reporting
mechanisms are ineffective. Like Melissa more than a year ago, little
information was available early enough for agencies to take proactive steps
to mitigate the damage. The CERT Coordination Center posted its advisory at
approximately 9:30 pm May 4, while FBI's National Infrastructure Protection
Center (NIPC) issued a brief notice at 11:00 am on May 4 and more
information at 10:00 pm. In addition, there is still no complete information
readily available on the impact that this virus had across the federal
government.

More important, like Melissa and other attacks this Subcommittee has focused
on, our experience with ILOVEYOU is a symptom of broader information
security concerns across government. Over the past several years, our
analyses as well as those of the inspectors general have found that
virtually all of the largest federal agencies have significant computer
security weaknesses that place critical federal operations and assets at
risk to computer-based attacks. Our most recent individual agency review, of
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), identified many security
weaknesses associated with the computer operating systems and the agencywide
computer network that support most of EPA's mission-related and financial
operations. In addition, EPA's own records identified serious computer
incidents in the last 2 years. EPA is currently taking significant steps to
address these weaknesses, but resolving them on a lasting basis will require
substantial ongoing management attention and changes in the way EPA views
information security.

EPA is not unique. Within the past 12 months, we have identified significant
management weaknesses and control deficiencies at a number of agencies,
including DOD, NASA, State, and VA. Although the nature of operations and
related risks at these and other agencies vary, there are striking
similarities in the specific types of weaknesses reported. I would like to
briefly highlight six areas of management and general control problems since
they are integral to understanding and implementing long-term solutions.

   * First, we continue to find that poor security planning and management
     is the rule rather than the exception. Most agencies do not develop
     security plans for major systems based on risk, have not formally
     documented security policies, and have not implemented programs for
     testing and evaluating the effectiveness of controls they rely on.
     These are fundamental activities that allow an organization to manage
     its information security risks cost-effectively rather than by reacting
     to individual problems ad hoc.
   * Second, agencies often lack effective access controls to their computer
     resources (data, equipment, and facilities) and, as a result, are
     unable to protect these assets against unauthorized modification, loss,
     and disclosure. These controls would normally include physical
     protections such as gates and guards and logical controls, which are
     controls built into software that (1) require users to authenticate
     themselves through passwords or other identifiers and (2) limit the
     files and other resources that an authenticated user can access and the
     actions that he or she can take.
   * Third, in many of our audits we find that application software
     development and change controls are weak. For example, testing
     procedures are undisciplined and do not ensure that implemented
     software operates as intended, and access to software program libraries
     is inadequately controlled.
   * Fourth, many agencies lack effective policies and procedures governing
     the segregation of duties. We commonly find that computer programmers
     and operators are authorized to perform a wide variety of duties, such
     as independently writing, testing, and approving program changes. This,
     in turn, provides them with the ability to independently modify,
     circumvent, and disable system security features.
   * Fifth, our reviews frequently identify systems with insufficiently
     restricted access to the powerful programs and sensitive files
     associated with the computer system's operation, e.g., operating
     systems, system utilities, security software, and database management
     system. Such free access makes it possible for knowledgeable
     individuals to disable or circumvent controls.
   * Sixth, we have found that service continuity controls are incomplete
     and often not fully tested for ensuring that critical operations can
     continue when unexpected events (such as a temporary power failure,
     accidental loss of files, major disaster such as a fire, or malicious
     disruptions) occur.

Actions Needed to Prepare for Future Computer Attacks

Figure 1: Actions Agencies Can Take To Immediately Reduce Risks
    * Ensure that agency personnel   Better understanding of risks allows
      at all levels understand the   senior executives to make more
      significance of their          informed decisions regarding
      dependence on computer support appropriate levels of financial and
      and the related risks to       personnel resources to protect these
      mission-related operations.    assets over the long term.
                                     Our audits often find that security is
    * Ensure that policies and       weak, not because agencies have no
      controls already implemented   policies and controls, but because the
      are operating as intended.     policies and controls they have
                                     implemented are not operating
                                     effectively.
                                     Security weaknesses are frequently
                                     discovered in commercial software
    * Ensure that known software     packages after the software has been
      vulnerabilities are reduced by sold and implemented. To remedy these
      promptly implementing software problems, vendors issue software
      patches.                       "patches" that users can install. In
                                     addition, organizations such as the
                                     CERT Coordination Center routinely
                                     issue alerts on software problems.
                                     Examples of such tools are (1)
                                     scanners that automatically search for
    * Use readily available software system vulnerabilities, (2) password
      tools to help ensure that      cracking tools, which test password
      controls are operating as      strength, and (3) network monitoring
      intended and that systems are  tools, which can be used to monitor
      secure.                        system configuration and network
                                     traffic, help identify unauthorized
                                     changes, and identify unusual or
                                     suspicious network activity.
                                     Our audits have shown that even
                                     agencies with poor security programs
    * Expand on the good practices   often have good practices in certain
      that are already in place in   areas of their security programs or
      the agency.                    certain organizational units. In these
                                     cases, we recommend that the agency
                                     expand or build on these practices
                                     throughout the agency.
                                     Such lists enable individual
    * Develop and distribute lists   organization units to take advantage
      of the most common types of    of experience gained by others. They
      vulnerabilities, accompanied   can be developed based on in-house
      by suggested corrective        experience, or adapted from lists
      actions.                       available through professional
                                     organizations and other centers of
                                     expertise.

To combat viruses and worms specifically, agencies could take steps such as
ensuring that security personnel are adequately trained to respond to early
warnings of attacks and keeping antivirus programs up-to-date. Strengthening
intrusion detection capabilities may also help. Clearly, it is difficult to
sniff out a single virus attached to an e-mail coming in but if 100 e-mails
with the same configuration suddenly arrive, an alert should be sounded.
User education is also key. In particular, agencies can teach computer users
that e-mail attachments are not always what they seem and that they should
be careful when opening them. By no means, should users open attachments
whose filenames end in ".exe" unless they are sure they know what they are
doing. Users should also know that they should never start a personal
computer with an unscanned floppy disk or CD-ROM in the computer drive.

I would like to stress, however, that while these actions can jump-start
security improvement efforts, they will not result in fully effective and
lasting improvements unless they are supported by a strong management
framework. Based on our 1998 study of organizations with superior security
programs, this involves managing information security risks through a cycle
of risk management activities that include

   * assessing risks and determining protection needs,
   * selecting and implementing cost-effective policies and controls to meet
     these needs,
   * promoting awareness of policies and controls, and of the risks that
     prompted their adoption, among those responsible for complying with
     them, and
   * implementing a program of routine tests and examinations for evaluating
     the effectiveness of policies and related controls and for reporting
     the resulting conclusions to those who can take appropriate corrective
     action.

Additionally, a strong central focal point can help ensure that the major
elements of the risk management cycle are carried out and can serve as a
communications link among organizational units. Such coordination is
especially important in today's highly networked computer environment.

I would also like to emphasize that while individual agencies bear primary
responsibility for the information security associated with their own
operations and assets, there are several areas where governmentwide criteria
and requirements also need to be strengthened. First, there is a need for
routine periodic independent audits of agencies to provide (1) a basis for
measuring agency performance and (2) information for strengthened oversight.
Except for security audits associated with financial statement audits,
current information security reviews are performed on an ad hoc basis.

Second, agencies need more prescriptive guidance regarding the level of
protection that is appropriate for their systems. Currently, guidance
provided by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the National
Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) allows agencies wide discretion
in deciding what computer security controls to implement and the level of
rigor with which they enforce these controls. As a result, existing guidance
does not ensure that agencies are making appropriate judgments in this area
and that they are protecting the same types of data consistently throughout
the federal community. More specific guidance could be developed in two
parts: the first being a set of data classifications that could be used by
all federal agencies to categorize the criticality and sensitivity of the
data they generate and maintain and the second being a set of minimum
mandatory control requirements for each classification which would cover
such issues as the strength of system user authentication techniques,
appropriate types of cryptographic tools, and the frequency and rigor of
testing.

Third, there is a need for stronger central leadership and coordination of
information security related activities across government. Under current
law, responsibilities for guidance and oversight of agency information
security is divided among a number of agencies, including OMB, NIST, the
General Services Administration, and the National Security Agency. Other
organizations have become involved through the administration's critical
infrastructure protection initiative, including the FBI's National
Infrastructure Protection Center and the Critical Infrastructure Assurance
Office. The federal Chief Information Officers Council is also supporting
these efforts. While all of these organizations have made positive
contributions, some roles and responsibilities are not clear, and central
coordination is lacking in key areas. In particular, as this latest attack
showed, information on vulnerabilities and related solutions is not being
adequately shared among agencies, and requirements related to handling and
reporting security incidents are not clear.

In conclusion, more than 12 months later, not much is different with the
ILOVEYOU worm/virus than with Melissa. Many agencies were hit; most were
fortunate that the worst damage done was to shut down e-mail systems and
temporarily disrupt operations; and early warning systems for incidents like
these still need to be improved. Moreover, our audits continue to find that
most agencies continue to lack the basic management framework needed to
effectively detect, protect against, and recover from these attacks. Lastly,
as seen with ILOVEYOU's variations, we can still expect the next virus to
propagate faster, do more damage, and be more difficult to encounter.
Consequently, it is more critical than ever that federal agencies and the
government act as whole to swiftly implement both short- and long-term
solutions identified today to protect systems and sensitive data.

Madam Chairwoman, this concludes my testimony. I would be happy to answer
any questions you or Members of the Subcommittee may have.

Contacts and Acknowledgments

(511998)

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