Judge lets some Interior employees back online

After enduring an Internet and e-mail blackout for nearly two weeks, some Interior Department employees could regain access to the cyber world under an order issued Tuesday by a U.S. District Court judge in Washington. On Dec. 5., the court ordered Interior to disconnect nearly all of its computers from the Internet, saying the agency's inadequate information security system put information on Indian trust funds managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs at risk.

But on Tuesday, Judge Royce C. Lamberth acknowledged that his order was harming "innocent citizens" who depend on Interior's services, and said systems could be brought back online as long as they aren't connected to BIA financial information and they pass a security inspection. The court-imposed shutdown of Interior's systems was prompted by a report from court-appointed Special Master Alan Balaran, who hired a hacker to penetrate the Indian trust data to demonstrate its vulnerability. BIA oversees about 300,000 individual trust accounts and sends checks to Indian beneficiaries, who rely on the money to pay for basic necessities. The agency has been dogged for years by allegations it has mismanaged the system. Tuesday's order in the case of Cobell v. Norton will also allow Interior to reconnect systems that are linked to Indian trust data for specified periods of time to perform security tests and to conduct fund transactions and provide services. Interior groups that wish to reconnect to the Internet will have to seek approval from Balaran. Interior spokesman John Wright said last week he didn't know what standard would be used to judge the adequacy of Interior's security. Some organizations at Interior are beginning to feel the pinch of being offline for almost half a month. Beth Owen, spokeswoman for GovWorks, the fee-for-service acquisition house of Interior's Minerals Management Service, said the organization can't process payments without Web access. Owen doesn't know when GovWorks might be able to reconnect. Owen emphasized that while Interior employees are greatly inconvenienced by the shutdown, no one is second-guessing the need to secure the Indian trust fund. "Everyone is disappointed about the Internet [blackout], but no one wants to see those funds in jeopardy," she said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

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

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


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