PTO: No one should trust our systems

'When it comes to IT security, we are increasing our investment and increasing our management attention. This does not imply that the program is not credible. '

'Douglas Bourgeois, PTO CIO

(GCN Photo by Henrik G. De Gyor)

If disaster struck the Patent and Trademark Office's data center today, the agency would be without access to its records for nearly four years and would have to spend $550 million to regenerate them from tape backups.

This detail, along with a laundry list of systems vulnerabilities, is included in a copy of PTO's 350-page 21st Century Strategic Plan obtained by GCN.

The agency earlier this month publicly released an 18-page version of the plan.

PTO is relentlessly tough on its security failings in the full plan now being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget. It describes the agency's failure to comply with IT security requirements and how systems are vulnerable to electronic and physical attack.

'Neither internal nor external customers can trust the PTO's automated systems,' the plan said. It documents problems with PTO's information security and disaster recovery operations.

Although the plan lambastes many of PTO's IT efforts, officials said it also spells out the steps necessary to improve operations.

After OMB completes its review and gives its approval, PTO will begin the action plan laid out in the strategy. PTO officials said they did not know when OMB would finish the review.

'When it comes to IT security, we are increasing our investment and increasing our management attention,' said Douglas Bourgeois, the agency's CIO. 'This does not imply that the program is not credible. Rather, it reflects the change in the global situation since Sept. 11.'

The strategic plan calls for a sweeping range of IT upgrades at PTO, but it's the information security and disaster recovery capabilities that the agency identified as most urgent.
'This entails a significant enhancement of the existing program,' Bourgeois said.

IG report coming

The plan noted that the Commerce Department's inspector general is preparing a negative report about PTO systems. That report and earlier studies indicate PTO is not in compliance with the Government Information Security Reform Act.

'IT security has not yet become an integral part of PTO's business operations and, therefore, fundamental responsibilities are frequently not carried out,' the strategy report concluded.

Bourgeois acknowledged the agency's efforts on security demand work. 'Certain issues which require additional attention have been brought to our attention through the GISRA process, and we have redoubled our efforts,' he said, adding that the agency continually tests its systems to improve security.

'These tests lead to the identification of new efforts and new technologies to enhance and deploy networks,' Bourgeois said.

The agency has named an interim IT security program manager, but the program lacks funding, the plan said. Without new funds, it said, the agency cannot comply adequately with security requirements for at least five years.

The plan recommended that the patent office use both government and contract staff to implement security upgrades.

Agency systems face intrusion attempts daily, the plan noted. 'Destruction, loss or misuse of sensitive data can lead to immeasurable costs,' the report said. 'Lack of protection for USPTO IT operational systems and their infrastructure is not an option at this point.'

The strategic plan described 'vulnerabilities that if exploited would seriously prevent' the agency from functioning. It noted that PTO has a single data center with 283 servers running Microsoft Windows NT, 137 Unix servers and 200T of high-speed storage subsystems linked by the PTONet backbone.

Single fail point

'A disaster striking the single data center would have a catastrophic effect' financially and from a production standpoint, the plan said.

Destruction of the data center would result in losses of about $7 million per day, the plan estimated. The agency is setting up a mirrored storage system to duplicate its production storage on physically separate devices. The system, at a facility outside the Washington area, will house 100T of data. The remaining 100T of the agency's data is stored on RAID Level 2 devices at the PTO data center in Arlington, Va.

'In the event of a disaster destroying the data center, this [data storage method] would offer no protection,' the plan said.

The agency also backs up its data on tapes that are stored off-site. But in an emergency, PTO would have to find a facility with servers, storage and communications systems to recover data from the tapes. This would take 47 months at a price of $550 million, the plan said.

But the agency proposes spending $56 million over three years on a data replication effort, which would let it rebuild its systems and restore full access to data within six to nine months after a disaster.

The total cost for the rebuilding effort would be $70 million to $105 million, the plan said, a savings of roughly $400 million and three and a half years compared to current backup practices.

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