Interior defends wireless plan

Today, Interior Department officials cleared up the record on wireless use throughout the agency.

Lawyers representing a group of American Indians suing the Interior Department say wireless Internet service could grant unauthorized access to Indian trust fund account information. But Interior plans to issue a solicitation notice for departmentwide wireless service soon.

Interior spokesman Dan DuBray said the wireless service is for phones only, not web-enabled devices.

'It doesn't affect the access to any of these networks,' he said, today. Right now, DOI employees purchase their own cell phones and get reimbursed, on a piecemeal basis. This contract would place each Interior employee's cell phone service under one carrier, providing more favorable rates for the government. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, already supported by a wireless phone service provider, is not part of the solicitation.

Interior officials also expressed concern that errors in the IG report on wireless have been propagated.

Last Tuesday, lawyers gave a federal judge a report published in December by Interior's inspector general on wireless management and security. It details how easily hackers could manipulate trust accounts held by 500,000 American Indians.

Between October 2003 and April 2004, inspectors found that Interior networks sometimes intersected with other networks and broadcasted information to inappropriate areas and people.

Last month, Interior shut down the Bureau of Land Management's Web site after the IG issued a report warning that its information technology systems were vulnerable to cyberthreats. The shutdown was the latest in a long-running dispute about the security of Indian trust fund information.

Interior officials maintain that the wireless IG report makes no mention of the words "Indian" or "Trust,' except when identifying the Bureau of Indian Affairs. 'Therefore, the assertion that the report conveys imminent harm to the trust accounts is a misrepresentation of that report,' DuBray said.

While the IG report states that the memo is 'silent on how DOI should handle what may be the inevitable use of wireless technology in the future,' the 'memo,' which is actually a security implementation guide, was available eight months before the IG report was published in final form without DOI comments.

'We would have concerns that the production of the report was subject to extended delay and lacked the opportunity for Agency comments,' DuBray said today.

The Department conducts its own aggressive program of routine penetration testing to identify and correct potential security issues, DuBray added.

'I insist that there is currently no demonstrable instance -- not one -- in which any individual not in the employ or under contract by the Federal government has accessed these systems. . . The penetration attempts discussed in these hearings have been part of OIG explorations specifically requested by the Department,' DuBray said.

Representatives for the Indian plaintiffs were unavailable for comment today.

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