IG: Justice inconsistent in reporting of data breaches

Officials at the Justice Department have failed to report certain computer security incidents within the time frame required by the Office of Management and Budget, according to an audit report released Monday.

The 142-page report from Justice's inspector general office found that the department had not consistently implemented a July 2006 OMB requirement that agencies report data breaches involving the loss of personally identifiable information within one hour of discovery. Recent computer security incidents, including the Veterans Affairs Department's May 2006 loss of 26.5 million records containing sensitive information on veterans, prompted the requirement.

Two of nine agencies within the department had not updated their policies and procedures to include the new OMB requirement, the IG found. And an analysis of nearly 200 computer security incidents from July to November 2006 found that officials failed to consistently report the loss of personally identifiable information within one hour to the department's Computer Emergency Readiness Team. The audit found that none of the incidents were reported within one hour to the Homeland Security Department's Computer Emergency Readiness Team, or US-CERT, as required by OMB.

Auditors also found that none of the department's component agencies have established procedures for notifying people who could be affected by the loss of personal information. "We believe that the lack of procedures could cause delays in notifying individuals whose information has been compromised, increasing the individuals' risk of falling victim to fraud or identity theft," the report stated.

In addition, the IG found that officials at the nine Justice agencies believed their employees followed the proper internal reporting procedures when issuing notifications of security incidents. But the information technology staff of the FBI was not always doing so in practice, the auditors found.

Incident reports are sent to two separate offices at the FBI, yet only one is required to relay them to the Justice team, the IG noted. The result is that some incidents do not get reported, the auditors stated.

On a more positive note, the IG found that several Justice agencies have taken extra steps to minimize unauthorized access to sensitive information and to educate employees on reporting requirements. These include posting security information on their intranet sites or on employee computer monitors upon login. The IG urged officials to consider adopting these procedures across the department.

Justice officials told the IG that reporting within an hour is not practical. They also said the guidance on reporting to US-CERT -- the organization responsible for coordinating the response to computer security incidents governmentwide -- is not clear on whether reports must arrive within the same hour as those to the Justice readiness team.

But officials concurred with the IG's eight recommendations to help improve the department's procedures, including one to clarify the deadlines for reporting incidents. The department also agreed to instruct agencies on proper reporting of incidents with classified information, and is developing reporting measures for ensuring that all agencies meet established time frames. Additionally, officials are developing procedures for notifying people affected by a loss of personal information.

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