Agencies get lackluster computer security grades

The federal government's computer security practices deserve an overall grade of D-, according to Rep. Stephen Horn, R-Calif., chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee for Management, Information and Technology.

In unveiling his first "report card" for computer security on Monday, Horn assigned federal agencies grades based on their self-reported answers to subcommittee and General Accounting Office questions. The Social Security Administration (B) and the National Science Foundation (B-) garnered the highest grades.

Among those agencies that received an F were Justice and Labor departments, as well as the Small Business Administration and the Office of Personnel Management.

"Obviously, there is a great deal of work ahead," Horn said, armed with a GAO report that found "serious and widespread weaknesses" in each of 24 major federal agencies' computer security systems. "Each agency must recognize that the daily challenges to their computer systems will continue to grow in number and sophistication," said Horn, who graded federal agencies last year on their preparedness for the Year 2000 computer date conversion.

The Commerce, Education, State, Housing and Urban Development departments and the Agency for International Development, received grades of C or C-, and the Defense and Treasury departments, as well as the Environment Protection Agency, General Services Administration and NASA, received grades of D+, D, or D-. Among those agencies receiving an incomplete grade due to lack of information were the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Officials at the Office of Management and Budget, who are responsible for overseeing federal agencies' computer security practices, disputed the legitimacy of a system that assigned a single grade to a complex security system.

"We have concerns that a grading system can be misleading, and whether those ratings have given an accurate snapshot of the efforts federal agencies have taken to safeguard citizens' information," said John Spotila, administrator of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Out of 100 points, Horn's grades were based on whether agencies had established entity-wide security programs (29 points), access controls (26 points), the ability to continuously provide service even when unexpected events occur (18 points), checks on unauthorized change in computer programs (12 points), limiting access to sensitive operating system files (12 points) and segregation of duties controls (3 points).

Daryl White, CIO for the Interior Department, and Edward Hugler, deputy assistant secretary at the Labor Department, attributed their agencies' poor grades-17 and 38 points respectively, the two lowest-to budget cuts in their agency's IT budgets. Hugler also noted that the data was a year old, and the agency had since taken corrective actions.

Rep. J. C. Watts, R-OK, chairman of the House Republican Conference and the Republican Cyber-Security Team, seized upon the results as evidence that government needs to do a better job of protecting its critical information systems. "It is our sworn duty as public officials to defend U.S. citizens as well as to protect national security secrets and other critical information from getting into the wrong hands," he said.

Horn's Grades for Agencies' Computer Security Efforts
September 11, 2000

Agency Grade
SSA B
NSF B-
Ed. C
State C
HUD C-
Commerce C-
AID C-
Defense D+
VA D
Treasury D
EPA D-
GSA D-
NASA D-
OPM F
HHS F
Agriculture F
SBA F
Justice F
Labor F
Interior F
Energy INC
NRC INC
Transportation INC
FEMA INC
AID F
Overall D-
Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.