Interior systems face renewed shutdown

Interior systems face renewed shutdown

The Interior Department could be ordered to shut down some of the systems it has reactivated since it received a court order in December to cut off its Internet connections, sources said.

The presence of American Indian trust data in Office of Surface Mining systems could lead Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to order the office to disconnect its links to the Internet, according to the plaintiffs' attorneys in the case of Cobell v. Norton and other sources close to the case.

Interior gradually has been reconnecting its systems to the Internet as the court has approved security upgrades [see story at www.gcn.com/21_10/departments/18538-1.html]. The upgrades provide protection for trust data from hacking via Internet access to Interior files, which a court consulting team late last year proved was possible.

But in a recent exchange of telephone conferences and letters between government lawyers and Mark Kester Brown of the Cobell legal team, the government said it could not confirm that the OSM computers are free of all trust data. Justice Department and Interior lawyers told Brown the government is reviewing OSM records.

Lamberth had granted permission for OSM to reconnect to the Internet based on earlier government statements that no trust data resided on the systems. Brown said the question of whether the court might order OSM to again sever its Internet connection depends on the judge's 'reaction to being lied to.' Other sources confirmed that OSM's computers could be shut down if the facts are not made clear.

In a related issue, court-appointed special master Alan Balaran advised Justice in an April 30 letter that consultants from IBM Corp. who are assisting his oversight of the reconnection process found new security flaws in Minerals Management Service computers.

According to Balaran, IBM found that MMS had been transferring trust data to state government and private-sector networks, 'the security of which is unknown.'

He added: 'I share IBM's concern that there may exist a lack of protocols securing royalty data and that, in reaction to the court's orders, individual Indian trust data has simply been migrated from one insecure system to another.'

Interior did not respond to requests for comment.

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