Federal agencies show persistent weaknesses in their information security controls, GAO says in a new report.
Federal agencies have been told for years that enterprise secerurity is not keeping up with cyber threats. The Government Accountability Office now has released hard data to back up that assertion, with a report stating that Information security incidents at 24 federal agencies have increased 650 percent during the last five years due to a combination of more numerous threats and persistent shortcomings in security controls.
GAO said it had previously made hundreds of recommendations on how to improve the agencies’ information protection practices and their compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act, but although agencies mostly agreed with the need to beef up security, implementation was spotty and hacking and unauthorized access incidents continued to rise. As a result, the agencies had a 650 percent rise in security incidents, from 5,503 in fiscal 2006 to 41,776 in fiscal 2010, GAO said.
“Weaknesses in information security policies and practices at 24 major federal agencies continue to place the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive information and information systems at risk,” GAO concluded.
“Until hundreds of recommendations are implemented and program weaknesses are corrected, agencies will continue to face challenges in securing their information and information systems,” the report said.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said the report adds urgency to the need to pass legislation he introduced with Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) to strengthen cybersecurity.
“These findings are all the more troubling given that GAO has been telling us for some time that these are areas of vulnerability and must be addressed, yet we still haven't made enough progress in shoring up these obvious weaknesses,” Carper said. “Federal agencies need to fully implement meaningful security programs that can withstand the serious cyber challenges we face today and will face for the foreseeable future, and they need the proper oversight and guidance to accomplish that goal. The implementation of FISMA was a good start, but it is clear more steps need to be taken to enhance the federal government's information security.”
The report recommended that the Office of Management and Budget provide performance targets for metrics included in its annual FISMA reporting instructions. OMB responded that it would be more appropriate for the Homeland Security Department to provide the metrics, and GAO agreed.