DOD Information Security: Serious Weaknesses Continue to Place Defense Operations at Risk

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-08-26.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                  United States General Accounting Office

GAO               Report to the Secretary of Defense

August 1999
                  DOD INFORMATION

                  Serious Weaknesses
                  Continue to Place
                  Defense Operations at

United States General Accounting Office                                                           Accounting and Information
Washington, D.C. 20548                                                                                 Management Division

                                    B-282190                                                                                      Letter

                                    August 26, 1999

                                    The Honorable William S. Cohen
                                    The Secretary of Defense

                                    Dear Mr. Secretary:

                                    The Department of Defense (DOD) relies on a vast and complex
                                    information infrastructure to support critical operations such as designing
                                    weapons, identifying and tracking enemy targets, paying soldiers,
                                    mobilizing reservists, and managing supplies. Indeed, its warfighting
                                    capability depends upon computer-based telecommunications networks
                                    and information systems. In recent years, numerous internal and external
                                    evaluations have identified weaknesses in information security that could
                                    seriously jeopardize DOD’s operations and compromise the confidentiality,
                                    integrity, or availability of sensitive information. This report summarizes
                                    the results of our latest review of information security at DOD.

                                    In May 1996, we reported that external attacks on DOD computer systems
                                    were a serious and growing threat.1 According to DOD officials, attackers
                                    had stolen, modified, and destroyed both data and software. They had
                                    installed "back doors" that circumvented normal system protection and
                                    allowed attackers unauthorized future access. They had shut down and
                                    crashed entire systems and networks.

                                    In September 1996, we issued a report, based on detailed analyses and
                                    testing of general computer controls, that identified pervasive
                                    vulnerabilities in DOD information systems.2 We had found that authorized
                                    users could also exploit the same vulnerabilities that made external attacks
                                    possible to commit fraud or other improper or malicious acts. In fact,

                                      Information Security: Computer Attacks at Department of Defense Pose Increasing Risks
                                    (GAO/AIMD-96-84, May 22, 1996).
                                     General computer controls are the policies and procedures that affect the overall security and
                                    effectiveness of computer systems and operations, as opposed to being unique to any specific computer
                                    program, office, or operation. General controls include the organizational structure, operating
                                    procedures, software security features, and physical protection designed to ensure that (1) access to
                                    computer systems and sensitive data is restricted to prevent unauthorized changes and disclosure,
                                    (2) only approved changes are made to computer programs, (3) back-up and recovery plans are
                                    adequate to continue essential operations in the event of an emergency, and (4) computer staff duties
                                    are properly segregated to reduce the risk of undetected errors or fraud.

                   Leter            Page 1                                             GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security

        knowledgeable insiders with malicious intentions could pose a more
        serious threat than outsiders since they may be more aware of system
        weaknesses and how to disguise inappropriate actions. Our report
        highlighted the lack of a comprehensive information security program and
        made numerous recommendations for corrective actions.3

        Subsequent reviews of individual systems also have disclosed serious
        weaknesses in information security. For example, we reported in 1997 that
        our review of the actuarial application supporting DOD’s Military
        Retirement Trust Fund disclosed a lack of overall security administration
        and management governing access to Fund data files and other files storing
        sensitive information, such as social security numbers, pay rates, child and
        spousal abuse allegations, and medical test results.4 In another example,
        two cases in which employees embezzled nearly $1 million led to our 1998
        review of Air Force’s vendor payment system. We identified a number of
        internal control weaknesses, including information security weaknesses,
        which leave the Air Force vulnerable to similar thefts.5

        Tests conducted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the summer of 1997
        demonstrated the continuing vulnerability of DOD and civilian networks to
        attack. Since then, DOD has acknowledged that it has continued to identify
        organized intrusions, indicating that such activities are an ongoing

        Because of the risks that inadequate information security poses to DOD
        operations and the integrity of its data, we followed up on our previous
        reviews of DOD’s general computer controls.6 Our objective was to provide
        an update on the status of corrective actions DOD has taken to (1) address
        specific weaknesses identified in our 1996 reports, in particular the
        September 1996 report and (2) develop a comprehensive departmentwide
        information security program.

            This report was designated Limited Official Use because of the sensitive information it contained.
        Financial Management: Review of the Military Retirement Trust Fund's Actuarial Model and Related
        Computer Controls (GAO/AIMD-97-128, September 9, 1997).
          Financial Management: Improvements Needed in Air Force Vendor Payment Systems and Controls
        (GAO/AIMD-98-274, September 28, 1998).
          Information Security: Computer Attacks at Department of Defense Pose Increasing Risks
        (GAO/AIMD-96-84, May 22, 1996) and the September 1996 Limited Official Use report.

Leter   Page 2                                                  GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security

Results in Brief   Serious weaknesses in DOD information security continue to provide both
                   hackers and hundreds of thousands of authorized users the opportunity to
                   modify, steal, inappropriately disclose, and destroy sensitive DOD data.
                   These weaknesses impair DOD’s ability to (1) control physical and
                   electronic access to its systems and data, (2) ensure that software running
                   on its systems is properly authorized, tested, and functioning as intended,
                   (3) limit employees’ ability to perform incompatible functions, and
                   (4) resume operations in the event of a disaster. As a result, numerous
                   Defense functions, including weapons and supercomputer research,
                   logistics, finance, procurement, personnel management, military health,
                   and payroll, have already been adversely affected by system attacks or

                   Our current review found that some corrective actions have been initiated
                   in response to the recommendations our 1996 reports made to address
                   pervasive information security weaknesses in DOD. However, progress in
                   correcting the specific control weaknesses identified during our previous
                   reviews has been inconsistent across the various DOD components
                   involved and weaknesses persist in every area of general controls.
                   Accordingly, we reaffirm the recommendations made in our 1996 reports.
                   The status of DOD actions to implement those recommendations is
                   discussed later in this report.

                   The DOD component activities we evaluated generally did not have
                   effective processes for identifying and resolving information security
                   weaknesses. However, the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), 7
                   which operates the Defense Megacenters (DMC), has established and is
                   implementing a comprehensive security review process. DISA developed
                   Standard Technical Implementation Guides (STIG), which prescribe clear
                   and detailed standards for configuring its system software. 8 Also, DISA’s
                   Security Readiness Review (SRR) process enables it to test DMC
                   compliance with the STIGs and other DISA security standards, track the
                   weaknesses identified by the testing, and monitor and report on efforts to

                    DISA is a major provider of telecommunications and computing services, supporting the military
                   services and other Defense agencies on a fee-for-service basis. The Defense Services and other Defense
                   agencies, however, continue to perform some data processing outside of the DMCs in data processing
                   centers that are not subject to DISA’s security review process.
                    System software includes operating systems, utility software, program library systems, file
                   maintenance software, security software, data communications systems, and database management
                   systems. One set of system software may be used to support and control a number of user applications.

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correct them. Thus far, DISA has identified and resolved thousands of
security weaknesses.

At the end of our review, however, DISA was still developing guidance for
configuring some of its system software and had not yet reviewed security
over all of its systems. Moreover, some ongoing weaknesses were
improperly reported as having been corrected because DISA has not
always independently verified in a timely manner the corrective actions
reported by its DMCs.

To provide a comprehensive, departmentwide information security
program, which our September 1996 report recommended, DOD
announced in January 1998 its plans for a Defense-wide Information
Assurance Program (DIAP)9 under the jurisdiction of the DOD Chief
Information Officer (CIO). In February 1999, DOD’s CIO finalized the
Implementation Plan for the DIAP that outlines organizational structure
and responsibilities. The program is still being staffed; DIAP staff will be
responsible for creating a DIAP concept of operations to address the
program’s operational structure and processes.

In December 1998, DOD also implemented the Joint Task Force for
Computer Network Defense, which DOD expects will support the DIAP by
monitoring DOD’s computer networks and defending against hacker
attacks and other unauthorized access. DISA’s security oversight program
and other models for information security management offer approaches
that DOD could adapt and integrate into its departmentwide program to
address threats to information security not covered by the Joint Task
Force. Because DIAP and task force efforts are at an early stage of
development, their ultimate effectiveness cannot yet be assessed.

In order that the full potential of DISA’s security oversight program, the
DIAP, and other DOD IA initiatives can be realized, we are recommending
that (1) the SRR process be expanded to include timely and independent
verification of the corrective actions reported by DMCs and (2) the DIAP
define how its efforts will be coordinated with the Joint Task Force and
other related initiatives.

 DOD defines information assurance as information operations that protect and defend information
and information systems by ensuring their availability, integrity, authentication, confidentiality, and
nonrepudiation. This includes capabilities to protect against, detect, and react to attacks.

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             In commenting on a draft of this report, DOD officials stated that they
             generally concurred with the report and its recommendations. They said
             that this report adds credence to efforts to heighten awareness within the
             DOD community of the serious risks that accompany poor security
             practices in information systems. They noted that DOD is actively working
             to correct the deficiencies cited in the report and they believe it is making
             progress in reducing the risks to its information systems.

Background   The DOD information processing environment is large, complex, and
             decentralized. DOD has over 2.1 million computers, over 10,000 local area
             networks, and over 100 long-distance networks. Its tens of thousands of
             automated information systems run on a variety of systems, including
             mainframe, mid-tier, client-server, and personal computer-based systems.

             Security over these systems involves a number of functional areas. These
             include groups and individuals who use and own these systems, application
             developers, data center personnel (such as systems programmers,
             computer operators, and security managers), and others who come in
             contact with computer resources or data.

             The owners of application systems and data are those organizations or
             individuals responsible for specifying the level of security required for their
             operations and supporting information systems, determining who is given
             access to their computer applications, prioritizing critical application
             programs to be covered by disaster recovery plans, and protecting their
             own system passwords and equipment. Application developers are
             responsible for managing software application program changes, ensuring
             the integrity of the application, and designing security controls within these
             applications consistent with owner requirements. Data center personnel
             are responsible for computer operations, system software configuration
             and change management, controls over access to data and programs at the
             system level, and some aspects of disaster recovery. Managers of the
             facilities in which these activities take place are generally responsible to
             some extent for physical and environmental security.

             In DOD, responsibility for the security of an individual application, such as
             a payroll system or weapon system, and its related data, is typically shared
             by several organizations. Any DOD component may be the owner or user of
             an application. Application development may be done in-house by the
             user’s organization or by a central design activity (CDA) on a fee-for-service
             basis. All of the military services and many of the Defense agencies,

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                         including the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) and the
                         Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), have CDA components. DISA, through its
                         DMCs, is a major provider of data processing services for DOD. However,
                         data processing services may be provided by the military services and other
                         DOD components or by a non-DOD service provider. Any of these DOD
                         components may be a tenant on an installation owned or managed by
                         another DOD component or government agency. In DISA’s case, for
                         example, each DMC shares the responsibility for physical security with the
                         host activity of the installation on which it is located.

                         In DOD, not all responsibilities are clearly assigned, however. For
                         example, while the data center is responsible for the security of the system
                         software and the developer for application security, neither has explicit
                         responsibility for the security and integrity of the interfaces between
                         operating systems and applications.

Objectives, Scope, and   To determine the extent to which specific information security weaknesses
                         identified in our September 1996 report had been corrected, we tested the
Methodology              effectiveness of corrective actions taken. Our testing was carried out in
                         four DMCs, three CDAs, and two customer (i.e., end-user) activities.10 Our
                         original review was an assessment of general computer controls, which
                         affect the overall security and effectiveness of an organization’s computer
                         systems and operations rather than being unique to a particular computer
                         program, office, or operation. Our tests of corrective actions were limited
                         to those areas in which we had previously documented specific
                         weaknesses. We did not test controls that we had previously found to be
                         operating effectively. Our audit program was based on our Federal
                         Information System Controls Audit Manual.11

                         We also evaluated DISA’s processes for overseeing security in the DMCs.
                         We compared the scope and content of their Security Technical
                         Implementation Guides (STIG) for system software with each other and
                         with external guidance. We documented their Security Readiness Review
                         (SRR) process and its history, assessed the security of the SRR database,

                          We are not identifying the specific activities and installations in which our testing was conducted
                         because of the sensitive nature of our findings. These were generally the same activities in which our
                         original testing was conducted, although due to organizational changes, the unit responsible for a
                         particular computer control had in some cases changed.
                              GAO/AIMD-12.19.6, January 1999.

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                      and quantified the results of SRRs performed to date. We also gathered
                      evidence about the reliability of the SRR database by testing selected
                      controls that were reported as SRR findings and subsequently reported as

                      For assistance in testing corrective actions and evaluating DISA’s processes
                      for overseeing security, we contracted with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.
                      We determined the scope of the contractor's audit work, monitored its
                      progress, and reviewed the related workpapers to ensure that the resulting
                      findings were adequately supported.

                      To determine the extent to which DOD had developed and implemented a
                      departmentwide information security program, we examined the
                      management and the implementation plans for the Defense-wide
                      Information Assurance Program and monitored Defense’s progress through
                      the end of our fieldwork. We also received briefings on the new Joint Task
                      Force for Computer Network Defense and interviewed DOD officials to
                      learn about departmentwide initiatives related to our recommendations.

                      At each test location, we briefed management on the results of our
                      fieldwork at that location. We also briefed DOD officials on the results of
                      our fieldwork at all locations. We requested comments on a draft of this
                      report from the Secretary of Defense or his designee. On July 16, officials
                      of the Infrastructure and Information Assurance Directorate of the Office
                      of the Secretary of Defense provided us with oral comments that are
                      discussed in the “Agency Comments and Our Evaluation” section of our
                      report. Our work was performed from October 1997 through February 1999
                      in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

Limited Progress in   Our 1996 reports identified pervasive information security weaknesses in
                      DOD and made recommendations for correcting them. While some
Correcting General    corrective actions had been initiated to address our recommendations, our
Control Weaknesses    current review found that weaknesses persisted in every area of general

                      Among the DOD components evaluated, only DISA had begun to establish a
                      comprehensive process to identify and resolve information security
                      weaknesses. DISA was issuing technical guidance to establish minimum
                      standards for configuring system software and was implementing
                      systematic entitywide inspections to monitor the effectiveness of computer

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                             controls. As a result, DISA had identified and resolved thousands of
                             control weaknesses.

Control Weaknesses Persist   In our current review we found that significant DOD information security
                             weaknesses in general computer controls persisted for all the components
                             evaluated, including DISA. The following sections give examples
                             illustrating the types of weaknesses we found in access controls,
                             application software development and change controls, segregation of
                             duties, system software controls, and service continuity controls.

Access Controls              Access controls limit or detect inappropriate access to computer data,
                             programs, facilities, and equipment to protect these resources against
                             unauthorized modification, disclosure, loss, or impairment. Access
                             controls include physical protections, such as gates and guards, and logical
                             controls, which are built into software to authenticate users (through
                             passwords or other means) and to restrict their access to certain data,
                             programs, transactions, or commands. DOD policy states that access to
                             automated information systems should be restricted based on one's

                             We found, however, that users were granted access to computer resources
                             that exceeded what they required to carry out their job responsibilities,
                             including sensitive system privileges for which they had no need. On one
                             system, systems support personnel had the ability to change data in the
                             system audit log. On three systems, we tested the accounts of 12 users
                             having access to a command that would allow them to substitute an
                             unauthorized data file for a legitimate file. Seven out of 12 did not have a
                             need to use this command. We also found user accounts that had certain
                             privileges—including sensitive security administration privileges— for
                             which no evidence of authorization was available. Access authorization
                             was poorly documented or undocumented for users at every site;
                             management estimated that on one system more than 20,000 users were
                             not authorized in writing.

                             Periodic review of user access privileges and monitoring of security
                             violations and the use of powerful commands, utilities, and changes to
                             sensitive files and records (such as user access profiles) are essential to
                             preventing and detecting unauthorized activity. However, we found at
                             every location we visited that there was inadequate periodic review of user
                             access privileges to ensure that those privileges continued to be
                             appropriate. Also, while the logging of security violations and access to

                             Page 8                                 GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security

                         sensitive resources had improved, these audit logs were not being
                         consistently reviewed. Similarly, we found that data processing customers
                         were not updating users’ access levels to reflect changes in their access
                         requirements or to cancel the access of terminated employees.

                         Password management, though improved, was still weak in some areas.
                         Users were not required to change their passwords often enough and in
                         some cases were never required to change their passwords. Users were
                         not prevented from using easily guessed passwords. These practices
                         increase the risk that passwords will be guessed and systems will be

                         User accountability was also weakened by the use of generic (group) user
                         accounts, wherein a single account is used by two or more users, contrary
                         to DISA standards. In the case of one generic user account having system
                         privileges, not only was the password known to multiple users, but it was
                         neither encrypted in the system nor required to be changed periodically.

Application Software     Application software development and change controls prevent
Development and Change   unauthorized programs or modifications to programs from being
Controls                 implemented to ensure that the software functions as intended. Program
                         change control policies and procedures include review and approval of
                         application change requests, independent review and testing of program
                         changes, documentation of program changes, and formal authorization to
                         implement those changes, along with the access controls necessary to
                         ensure that these objectives are met.

                         We found that structured methodologies for designing, developing, and
                         maintaining applications were inadequate or nonexistent. There was no
                         requirement for users to document the planning and review of application
                         changes and to test them to ensure that the system functioned as intended.
                         Also, application programs were not adequately documented with a full
                         description of the purpose and function of each module, which increases
                         the risk that a developer making program changes will unknowingly
                         subvert new or existing application controls.

                         One fundamental technique of program change control is the use of two or
                         more computer processing environments to segregate the test and
                         development versions of application programs and data from the
                         production resources (those versions approved and currently being used
                         by the data processing customer). We found that application programmers,
                         users, and computer operators had direct access to production resources,

                         Page 9                                GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security

                        increasing the risk that unauthorized changes to production programs and
                        data could be made and not detected. On one system, 74 user accounts had
                        privileges enabling them to change program code without supervisory
                        review and approval. This number had increased from the 37 users that we
                        had documented in our earlier review. According to management, only
                        four people should have this authority. On another system, nearly 300
                        programmers could alter production programs and data.

Segregation of Duties   Segregation of duties refers to the policies, procedures, and organizational
                        structure that help to ensure that one individual cannot independently
                        control all key aspects of a process or computer-related operation and
                        thereby conduct unauthorized actions without detection. As an example, a
                        computer programmer should not be allowed to independently write, test,
                        and approve program changes. In the information processing environment,
                        the duties and access capabilities of systems programmers, application
                        programmers, security administrators, and end-users, for example, should
                        generally be segregated from one another.

                        Duties in the DOD computing environment were not adequately
                        segregated. We found that personnel were still assigned both systems
                        programming and security administration duties. These individuals could
                        make unauthorized changes to programs and data while using their
                        security privileges to disable the system’s capability to create an audit trail
                        of those changes. Thus they could, for example, modify payroll records or
                        shipping records to generate unauthorized payments or to misdirect
                        inventory shipments and suppress the related system audit data to avoid

System Software         System software controls limit and monitor access to the powerful
                        programs and sensitive files associated with the computer systems
                        operation. System software helps control and coordinate the input,
                        processing, output, and data storage associated with all of the applications
                        that run on the system. Some system software can change data and
                        program code without creating an audit trail or can be used to modify or
                        delete audit trails.

                        Improperly configured or poorly maintained system software can be
                        exploited to circumvent security controls to read, modify, or delete critical
                        or sensitive data or programs. It can also be used to gain privileges to
                        conduct unauthorized transactions or to circumvent edits or other controls
                        built into application programs. For these reasons, system software
                        vulnerabilities are a common target of hackers, both internal and external

                        Page 10                                 GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security

                              to the entity. As a result, most entities have a separate set of procedures for
                              controlling system software.

                              We found end-users had been given unnecessary (and in some cases
                              unauthorized) access to system functions, tools, and data. For example,
                              users could read system data files containing information useful to
                              hackers. On four systems, users could view other users' output, which
                              could include sensitive or confidential information. On one system,
                              end-users had the capability to issue commands that would allow them to
                              disrupt all processing on that system. As with other groups of users, the
                              activities and access privileges of users with sensitive system privileges
                              were not adequately monitored.

                              We also found system software maintenance issues which create security
                              exposures. For example, we found system libraries for privileged
                              programs (i.e., programs that are allowed to perform powerful system
                              functions) that contained the names of nonexistent programs. By creating
                              a new program with the same name as one of these nonexistent members, a
                              user could install malicious code with the authority to make changes to the
                              operating system, the security software, and user programs or data and to
                              delete audit logs. We found that one site was running a proprietary
                              mainframe operating system and other system software products that were
                              no longer supported by the vendor. Management informed us that such
                              software was needed to support application programs that had not yet been
                              upgraded to run on a current version of the operating system. This site was
                              also running programs that were undocumented. These practices increase
                              the risk that security vulnerabilities or other problems will not be detected
                              or corrected.

Service Continuity Controls   Service continuity controls ensure that when unexpected events occur,
                              critical operations continue without undue interruption and critical and
                              sensitive data are protected. A well-documented plan for disaster recovery
                              and continuity of operations, based upon an up-to-date risk analysis and
                              periodic testing, is critical to ensure that an organization can continue to
                              fulfill its mission while responding to natural disasters, accidents, or other
                              major and minor interruptions in data processing.

                              We found mission-related applications and the activities they support that
                              are at risk because of inadequate planning for service continuity. Although
                              DISA recommends nightly back-up of high-activity application data files,
                              some information processing customers did not require that their
                              application data be backed up frequently enough to ensure effective

                              Page 11                                 GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security

                             mission support after a service disruption. This increases the risk that
                             some data cannot be restored, particularly as temporary data files may not
                             exist at the time the full system back-up is done, which is typically once a
                             week. Also, although DISA requires that back-up tapes be stored at least
                             25 miles, and preferably 100 miles, from the processing site, we noted that
                             one DMC was storing back-up tapes only 14 miles from the data center
                             without having obtained a waiver from DISA. This increases the risk that
                             both the back-up tapes and the data center could be affected by the same

                             We found that disaster recovery plans were incomplete and did not specify
                             the order in which the customer's applications (or the programs within a
                             particular application) should be restored. This increases the risk that
                             relatively trivial functions may be restored before those that are most
                             critical to the user's mission. One plan assumed the availability of
                             hardware which was not on-site and was still in the procurement process.

                             Many DISA customers had not tested their recovery procedures or had not
                             tested them under the conditions likely to prevail in the event of a disaster.
                             These weaknesses increase the risk that the organization may fail in its
                             mission or incur unnecessary expense as the result of a prolonged service

Progress in Addressing       Although each of the activities we evaluated had made some progress in
Security Weaknesses Varied   addressing the individual weaknesses identified in our 1996 report, only
                             DISA was implementing a comprehensive process for identifying, tracking,
Among DOD Organizations
                             and resolving weaknesses within its jurisdiction. While implementation of
                             this process was not yet complete, DISA had already identified and
                             resolved thousands of specific control weaknesses.

                             In 1994, DISA created a task force to assess the security posture of its
                             DMCs. This task force created an inspection checklist and a database to
                             capture, track, and analyze its findings. The task force conducted system
                             reviews and physical/environmental reviews, which have evolved into
                             DISA's Security Readiness Review (SRR) process. DISA has steadily
                             increased the number of security reviews performed. By the end of
                             November 1998, DISA had completed 542 SRRs, generated a total of 14,860
                             findings, and reported that 11,418 of these findings had been corrected.

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As DISA began implementing its SRR process, it also began drafting
detailed technical guidance for individual systems, known as Security
Technical Implementation Guides (STIG), which specify minimum
standards for managing system software security. STIGs cover topics such
as organizational relationships and responsibilities and the management
processes and technical requirements needed to ensure hardware integrity,
system software integrity, and data-level integrity. They define the
requirements for interfacing the various components of system software
and include such details as specific configuration options to be used,
password management, testing requirements, and permissible levels of
access to system resources. Most importantly, all DMC systems are subject
to SRRs and DMC management is accountable for the findings generated.
DISA officials and staff report that correcting SRR deficiencies is given a
high priority because the status of SRR findings is a part of each DMC
director's or commander's readiness report.

DISA has published STIGs for most of its systems and expects to have
performed SRRs of all its systems before the end of 1999. Additional action,
however, is needed to improve DISA’s oversight of information security. For
example, while the DISA inspector will generally verify any corrective
action taken while he or she is still on-site, subsequent corrective actions
are reported in the SRR database as having adequately addressed
deficiencies even though the actions may not be verified until the next
regularly scheduled inspection, which may be 15 to 36 months later. We
found that this practice has resulted in some inaccuracies. We tested 55
deficiencies that were “accepted-as–fixed” in the SRR database and
determined that about one-fourth had not been corrected. For example,
several DMCs had reported that their system software configuration
options had been changed to conform to DISA requirements, and the SRR
database had been updated accordingly. However, our testing showed that
the options in question were not in compliance with DISA standards. We
did not attempt to determine whether these inconsistencies were the result
of oversights, misrepresentations, or other factors. DISA officials agreed
that more timely, independent verification of corrective actions is desirable
and reported that they were exploring ways to address this issue.

Other DOD components had not made similar progress in instituting an
effective oversight process. The modest improvements that these
components had made were the result of individual and isolated command
or unit actions rather than comprehensive service, agency, or department

Page 13                                GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security

DOD Has Developed         As stated in our executive guide on information security management, 12 a
                          well-designed and well-managed information security program with
But Not Yet               senior-level support is essential for ensuring that an agency's controls are,
Implemented a             and continue to be, appropriate and effective. The program should
                          establish a process and assign responsibilities for systematically
Departmentwide            (1) assessing risk, (2) developing and implementing effective security
Information Security      policies and related control techniques, (3) promoting user awareness of
Program                   security issues, (4) monitoring the appropriateness and effectiveness of
                          these policies and techniques, and (5) providing feedback to managers who
                          may then make needed adjustments. It should also establish a central
                          management focal point for information security. This focal point
                          functions as a facilitator and a conduit for information. It may also be a
                          central resource for activities such as security training. Such a program
                          can provide senior officials a means of managing information security risks
                          and the related costs rather than just reacting to individual incidents.

                          In 1996, we reported that DOD lacked a departmentwide information
                          security program to comprehensively address the general control
                          weaknesses we had identified. We made a number of recommendations
                          related to establishing such a program. DOD agreed with our
                          recommendations and issued plans for the Defense-wide Information
                          Assurance Program (DIAP), which is to provide the framework for a
                          comprehensive information security program. It is too early to assess
                          when, whether, or how effectively the provisions of the DIAP management
                          and implementation plans will be implemented and coordinated with other
                          related efforts or whether the DIAP will ultimately succeed in ensuring
                          adequate information security throughout DOD.

Earlier Recommendations   The 10 recommendations in our September 1996 report to the Secretary of
for Establishing a        Defense, the DISA Director, and the CIOs of the military departments and
                          other Defense agencies were aimed at
Information Security      • empowering the DOD CIO to establish a comprehensive,
Program                     departmentwide information security program;
                          • ensuring that security programs of the military departments and
                            Defense agencies are consistent with the department program; and

                             Information Security Management: Learning From Leading Organizations (GAO/AIMD-98-68,
                          May 1998).

                          Page 14                                          GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security

                          • periodically reporting on progress in improving controls over
                            information security.

                          DOD concurred with these recommendations and committed to resolving
                          the issues and implementing the recommendations. The department has
                          reported that corrective actions are in progress for each of these
                          recommendations. The full text of the recommendations appears in
                          appendix I.

Departmentwide            At the time of our current review, DOD was developing but had not yet
Information Security      implemented a departmentwide security program in response to the
                          recommendations in our earlier reports. On January 30, 1998, the Deputy
Program Being Developed
                          Secretary of Defense approved the Defense-wide Information Assurance
                          Program (DIAP) and distributed a DIAP management plan to senior DOD
                          officials. The Implementation Plan for the DIAP, which was finalized on
                          February 12, 1999, describes at a high level the program’s goals, objectives,
                          and organizational structure. DIAP staff will be responsible for creating a
                          DIAP concept of operations to address the program’s operational structure
                          and processes. The program is still being staffed.

                          The DIAP integrates component information assurance (IA) activities into
                          a single program under the DOD CIO, combining centralized oversight with
                          decentralized execution. The DIAP staff will carry out the planning,
                          programming, budgeting, and review of all IA activities throughout DOD.
                          All IA investments and expenditures will be reported as part of the DIAP
                          budget beginning in fiscal year 2000. DOD components will be responsible
                          for carrying out their portions of the DIAP annual plan and for reporting on
                          their activities to the Director of Information Assurance, who in turn
                          reports to the DOD CIO.

                          DIAP planning documents, which incorporate at a high level most of the
                          best practices associated with successful information security
                          management, indicate that DOD recognizes and is attempting to establish
                          the departmentwide management structure needed to manage the complex
                          information security risks associated with its heavy reliance on
                          interconnected computer systems. For example, because the DIAP is an
                          integrated program under the DOD CIO, it provides a central focal point for
                          identifying risks affecting multiple Defense components and coordinating
                          the selection, funding, and implementation of appropriate mitigating

                          Page 15                                GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security

The DIAP also establishes a Senior DIAP Steering Group composed of
representatives from the services, Joint Staff, National Security Agency,
and DISA. Thus, it involves senior management officials responsible for
mission-related operations and assets as well as technical security
specialists to help ensure that the related information security risks are
fully understood and that an appropriate level of resources is provided to
mitigate them.

DIAP plans call for development of performance measures and an annual
IA operational assessment, both prerequisites for effective feedback and
reporting. They also call for an annual review of DIAP goals and related
service and Defense agency plans, which is important to identify new risks,
threats, and countermeasures to ensure that controls remain appropriate
and effective. As DOD develops operating policies and procedures to
support the DIAP, it can draw upon the existing information security
guidance and best practices being used by other organizations, which
define basic elements needed to provide effective feedback on information
security controls. For example, our Federal Information System Controls
Audit Manual defines information system control objectives and provides a
framework for assessing the effectiveness of those controls. Similarly,
DISA’s SRR and STIG compliance process provides a model for testing to
determine if controls are functioning as intended, monitoring compliance,
and tracking and reporting weaknesses identified during testing for
resolution and review by senior management.

In December 1998, a newly-created Joint Task Force for Computer
Network Defense began coordinating and directing the defense of DOD
computer systems and networks against strategic attack. Its functions
include (1) situation monitoring and assessment, (2) directing DOD actions
to stop attacks, contain damage, restore functionality, and provide
feedback to users, (3) coordinating DOD defensive actions with other
government agencies and private organizations as appropriate,
(4) participation in joint training exercises, and (5) development of
contingency plans and techniques.

The Joint Task Force supports the DIAP by providing the monitoring tools
to identify hostile attacks to DOD systems through its networks. However,
the DIAP does not yet adequately address the vulnerabilities that make
such attacks possible or the threats to information security that cannot
be detected through network monitoring. The latter include
(1) environmental threats, such as natural disasters or accidents, (2) the
unauthorized activities (such as espionage, sabotage, or embezzlement) of

Page 16                               GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security

                  authorized users, programmers, or terminated employees who still have
                  system access due to lax security management, and (3) data loss or
                  corruption following a service interruption, due to poor back-up and
                  contingency planning.

                  DOD believes the DIAP and task force initiatives will address the computer
                  control weaknesses noted in our previous reports and our current review.
                  However, it is too early to determine how the provisions in the DIAP plans
                  will be implemented or how the Joint Task Force and other operational
                  efforts yet to be developed will be coordinated with it. Thus, we were
                  unable to assess whether these efforts will ultimately be successful in
                  ensuring adequate information security throughout DOD. We will monitor
                  the implementation of the DIAP as part of our oversight of DOD
                  information security.

Conclusions       Departmentwide, DOD has made limited progress in correcting the general
                  control weaknesses we reported in 1996. As a result, these weaknesses
                  persist across every area of general controls. However, DISA has
                  developed technical standards and is implementing a Security Readiness
                  Review process that provides a model for information security
                  management throughout its DMCs. DISA has not fully implemented this
                  information security program and still needs to address certain
                  shortcomings. Specifically, the quality of data in its SRR database could be
                  improved through more timely independent verification of corrective
                  actions by the DMCs or other parties.

                  The DIAP implementation plan provides the framework for a
                  departmentwide information security program. However, because DOD has
                  not yet implemented DIAP, we cannot yet determine whether it will
                  ultimately succeed in ensuring adequate security throughout the
                  department. Close coordination between the DIAP, the Joint Task Force,
                  and other operational efforts will be crucial to comprehensively addressing
                  DOD’s information security weaknesses. DISA’s program and other models
                  for information security management offer approaches that DOD could
                  adapt and integrate into its departmentwide program.

Recommendations   In addition to reaffirming the recommendations in our 1996 reports, we
                  recommend that, to realize the full potential and maximize the

                  Page 17                                GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security

                      effectiveness of DISA’s security oversight program, the DIAP, and other
                      DOD IA initiatives, the Secretary of Defense take the following actions.

                      • Direct the DISA Director to expand the Security Readiness Review
                        process to include timely and independent verification of the corrective
                        actions reported by DMCs or other responsible parties.
                      • Direct the DOD CIO to ensure that the Defense-wide Information
                        Assurance Program defines how its efforts will be coordinated with the
                        Joint Task Force and other related initiatives.

Agency Comments and   DOD officials generally concurred with the report and our
                      recommendations, noting that this report adds credence to efforts to
Our Evaluation        heighten awareness within the DOD community of the serious risks that
                      accompany poor security practices in information systems. They stated
                      that the department is actively working to correct the deficiencies cited in
                      the report and that they believe it is making progress in reducing the risks
                      to its information systems. They also noted that the task is large and many
                      corrective actions are underway, and affirmed that the continued
                      development of the DIAP and other efforts will strengthen the department’s
                      information security posture.

                      With regard to our recommendation concerning DISA’s verification of
                      corrective actions, DOD officials acknowledged problems with the
                      accuracy of reported fixes at Defense Megacenters. They advised us that
                      DISA has since modified its procedures to include a specific check of the
                      validity of entries made on previously documented Security Readiness
                      Reviews. According to DISA, the revised procedures call for incorrect
                      entries and repeat findings to be noted as serious concerns to DMC facility

                      Regarding our recommendation concerning coordination of the DIAP with
                      the Joint Task Force and related initiatives, DOD officials affirmed that the
                      DIAP and other initiatives in the department—such as the Joint Task Force
                      for Computer Network Defense (JTF-CND)—will address the computer
                      control weaknesses cited in our report and recognized that efforts must be
                      coordinated between the DIAP and those other initiatives. They pointed
                      out that the DIAP has established close working relationships with the
                      military services, agencies, Joint Staff, and other elements within DOD,
                      including the newly established JTF-CND. They noted that an
                      implementation plan is being prepared that aligns JTF-CND under the

                      Page 18                                GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security

Commander-in-Chief, United States Space Command, and that the DIAP
has participated in the working groups to create this plan.

Lastly, they referred to two other DOD initiatives assessing (1) the threat to
information systems posed by insiders and (2) the training of DOD
information technology employees. They noted that these studies are
expected to result in recommendations related to the training of system
administrators and the controls over their access to information systems
that, when implemented, should yield significant improvements to the
security of DOD information systems.

This report contains recommendations to you. The head of a federal
agency is required by 31 U. S. C. 720 to submit a written statement on
actions taken on these recommendations to the Senate Committee on
Governmental Affairs and the House Committee on Government Reform
within 60 days of the date of this report. You must also send a written
statement to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations with the
agencies’ first request for appropriations made over 60 days after the date
of this report.

We are sending copies of this report to Senator Fred Thompson, Senator
Joseph Lieberman, Representative Floyd Spence, Representative Ike
Skelton, Representative Dan Burton, Representative Henry A. Waxman,
Representative C.W. Bill Young, and Representative John P. Murtha in their
capacities as Chair or Ranking Minority Member of Senate and House
Committees and Subcommittees. We are also sending copies of this report
to Mr. Arthur L. Money, Senior Civilian Official for the Office of the
Assistant Secretary of Defense (Command, Control, Communications and
Intelligence) and DOD Chief Information Officer, and Lieutenant General
David J. Kelley, Director, Defense Information Systems Agency. Copies will
also be made available to others upon request.

Page 19                                 GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security

If you or your office have any questions concerning this report, please
contact me or Les Thompson, Assistant Director, at (202) 512-3789.
Individuals making key contributions to this report are listed in
appendix II.

Sincerely yours,

Robert F. Dacey
Director, Consolidated Audit and Computer
Security Issues

Page 20                                GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security
Page 21   GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security

Letter                                                                                         1

Appendix I                                                                                    24

Made in

Appendix II                                                                                   26

GAO Contacts and

Related GAO Products                                                                          27


                       CDA       Central Design Activity
                       CIO       Chief Information Officer
                       DFAS      Defense Finance and Accounting Service
                       DIAP      Defense-wide Information Assurance Program
                       DISA      Defense Information Systems Agency
                       DLA       Defense Logistics Agency
                       DMC       Defense Megacenter
                       DOD       Department of Defense
                       IA        information assurance
                       JTF-CND   Joint Task Force for Computer Network Defense
                       SA        Security Administor
                       SRR       Security Readiness Review
                       STIG      Security Technical Implementation Guide

                       Page 22                           GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security
Page 23   GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security
Appendix I

Recommendations Made in GAO/AIMD-96-144                                                                                                     AppenIx

                                               DOD has reported that corrective actions are in progress for each of the
                                               recommendations below. While none are fully completed, DOD believes
                                               that its corrective actions will address all of our recommendations,
                                               primarily through the DIAP. As noted in this report, it is too early to
                                               determine how the provisions in the DIAP will be implemented and, thus,
                                               whether these corrective actions will effectively address our


    I     We recommend that the Secretary of Defense assign clear responsibility and accountability within the Office of the Secretary
          of Defense, the military services, and the Defense agencies for ensuring the successful implementation of an information
          security program that includes, for example, departmentwide policies for preventing, detecting, and responding to hacker
          attacks on Defense information systems.

    II    We further recommend that you direct the DOD CIO to develop and implement a comprehensive DOD-wide computer
          security management program that includes the hacker prevention policies we previously recommended as well as

          • establishing a risk-based control program to assess computer security in DOD computer systems,

          • developing and implementing effective security policies and related control techniques, and

          • reporting to DOD managers on security issues impacting their information processing systems.

    III   We also recommend that you direct the Deputy Secretary of Defense to ensure that the duties established for the military
          departments' and Defense agencies' CIOs include reporting on ongoing computer security efforts and activities to the DOD
          CIO for review, assessment, and appropriate action to ensure proper coordination and an integrated information technology
          structure within the Department.

    IV    Further, you should direct the DOD CIO to review and assess the specific deficiencies noted and establish a process to
          address them.

    V     In addition, we recommend that the DISA Director, the CIOs of the military departments, and the CIOs of the other Defense
          agencies submit their policies and procedures to improve general computer controls to the DOD CIO for review, assessment,
          and appropriate action to ensure a comprehensive security approach is operational throughout the Department. Such
          policies and procedures should

          • limit computer system access authorizations to only those who need access to perform their work responsibilities, and are
          periodically reviewed to ensure their continued need;

          • require sensitive data files and critical production programs to be identified and successful and unsuccessful access to them
          to be monitored;

          • strengthen security software standards in critical areas, such as by preventing the reuse of passwords and ensuring that
          security software is implemented and maintained in accordance with the standards;

          • control physical security at computer facilities; and

          • provide for completing and testing disaster recovery plans.

                                               Page 24                                       GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security
                                           Appendix I
                                           Recommendations Made in

VI     To ensure that general computer controls are improved at the DMCs, we recommend that the DOD CIO direct the DISA
       Director to develop and implement a comprehensive computer security program at the DMCs, consistent with the DOD-wide
       program, that includes the elements outlined in this report. These elements encompass

       • policies and procedures to ensure that access to DMC computer facilities is appropriately granted and periodically reviewed,

       • clearly defined roles and responsibilities of DMC employees, information system security officers, and security managers,

       • security oversight at each DMC to monitor, measure, test, and report on the ongoing effectiveness of computer system,
       network, and process controls.

VII    In addition, we recommend that the CIOs of the military departments and the Defense agencies submit plans for coordinating
       with DISA to improve computer controls affecting DMC operations to the DOD CIO for review, assessment, and appropriate
       actions. Greater cooperation is necessary, for example, to

       • determine who is given access to computer systems applications,

       • identify critical computer systems applications to be covered by disaster recovery plans, and

       • ensure that locally designed software application program changes are in accordance with prescribed policies and

VIII   Also, the DISA Director and the CIOs of the military departments and Defense agencies should provide their plans to the
       DOD CIO, for review, assessment, and appropriate action to ensure that computer system security reviews are performed as
       part of future transfers of computer systems to the DMCs.

IX     Further, the DOD CIO should monitor implementation of those plans.

X      Finally, to strengthen DOD's computer security program in a coordinated and timely manner, we recommend that you

       • direct the DOD CIO to monitor and to periodically report on the status of the actions taken to improve computer security
       throughout DOD and

       • ensure that the DOD CIO has the necessary authority to ensure that there are adequate computer security controls
       throughout DOD, including the military departments and Defense agencies.

                                           Page 25                                        GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security
Appendix II

GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgements                                                       AppeInx

GAO Contacts      C. Les Thompson, (202) 512-3789
                  Robert F. Dacey, (202) 512-3317

Acknowledgments   In addition to those named above, Sharon Kittrell, Jean Boltz, Edward
                  Glagola, Linda Sellevaag, Gary Austin, and Walter Opaska made key
                  contributions to this report.

                  Page 26                              GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security
Related GAO Products

               Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Defense
               (GAO/OCG-99-4, January 1999).

               Information Security: Strengthened Management Needed to Protect
               Critical Federal Operations and Assets (GAO/T-AIMD-98-312, September
               23, 1998).

               Financial Management: Improvements Needed in Air Force Vendor
               Payment Systems and Controls (GAO/T-AIMD-98-308, September 28, 1998).

               Information Security: Serious Weaknesses Place Critical Federal
               Operations and Assets at Risk (GAO/AIMD-98-92, September 23, 1998).

               Defense Computers: Year 2000 Computer Problems Put Navy Operations at
               Risk (GAO/AIMD-98-150, June 30, 1998).

               Defense Computers: Army Needs to Greatly Strengthen Its Year 2000
               Program (GAO/AIMD-98-53, May 29, 1998).

               Executive Guide: Information Security Management: Learning From
               Leading Organizations (GAO/AIMD-96-68, May 1998).

               Defense Computers: Year 2000 Computer Problems Threaten DOD
               Operations (GAO/AIMD-98-72, April 30, 1998).

               Department of Defense: Financial Audits Highlight Continuing Challenges
               to Correct Serious Financial Management Problems
               (GAO/T-AIMD/NSIAD-98-158, April 16, 1998).

               Defense Computers: Air Force Needs to Strengthen Year 2000 Oversight
               (GAO/AIMD-98-35, January 16, 1998).

               Federal Management Issues (GAO/OCG-98-1R, January 9, 1998).

               Defense IRM: Poor Implementation of Management Controls Has Put
               Migration Strategy at Risk (GAO/AIMD-98-5, October 20, 1997).

               Defense Computers: LSSC Needs to Confront Significant Year 2000 Issues
               (GAO/AIMD-97-149, September 26, 1997).

       Leter   Page 27                             GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security
                   Financial Management: Review of the Military Retirement Trust Fund's
                   Actuarial Model and Related Computer Controls (GAO/AIMD-97-128,
                   September 9, 1997).

                   Defense Computers: Improvements to DOD Systems Inventory Needed for
                   Year 2000 Effort (GAO/AIMD-97-112, August 13, 1997).

                   Defense Computers: Issues Confronting DLA in Addressing Year 2000
                   Problems (GAO/AIMD-97-106, August 12, 1997).

                   Defense Computers: DFAS Faces Challenges in Solving the Year 2000
                   Problem (GAO/AIMD-97-117, August 11, 1997).

                   Defense Financial Management: Immature Software Development
                   Processes at Indianapolis Increase Risk (GAO/AIMD-97-41, June 6, 1997).

                   Defense IRM: Investments at Risk for DOD Computer Centers
                   (GAO/AIMD-97-39, April 4, 1997).

                   High-Risk Series: Defense Financial Management (GAO/HR-97-3,
                   February 1, 1997).

                   High-Risk Series: Information Management and Technology (GAO/HR-97-9,
                   February 1, 1997).

                   Financial Management: DOD Inventory of Financial Management Systems
                   Is Incomplete (GAO/AIMD-97-29, January 31, 1997).

                   Information Security: Computer Hacker Information Available on the
                   Internet (GAO/T-AIMD-96-108, June 5, 1996).

                   Information Security: Computer Attacks at Department of Defense Pose
                   Increasing Risks (GAO/AIMD-96-84, May 22, 1996).

                   Information Security: Computer Attacks at Department of Defense Pose
                   Increasing Risks (GAO/T-AIMD-96-92, May 22, 1996).

                   Defense Industrial Security: Weaknesses in U.S. Security Arrangements
                   With Foreign-Owned Defense Contractors (GAO/NSIAD-96-64, February 20,

(919159)   Leter   Page 28                              GAO/AIMD-99-107 DOD Information Security
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