IRS gets favorable progress report on information security

The Internal Revenue Service has made strides in implementing information security measures, but must be more consistent about configuring systems properly and protecting against unauthorized access, the IRS inspector general reported this week.

The agency completed the certification and accreditation process, protected personal identifiable information appropriately, and tested security controls and contingency plans for all 22 of its information technology systems, according to the IG's fiscal 2008 report on compliance with the 2002 Federal Information Management Act. The IRS also provided appropriate oversight of contractor systems in almost all cases, and conducted a complete inventory of nearly every major information system that interfaces with the agency's network.

That said, there are still areas in need of improvement, auditors said. "While the IRS improved its certification and accreditation process, more needs to be done to adequately secure its systems and data," the IG reported.

The IRS developed an agencywide information system security configuration policy that incorporates recommendations from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, but implemented the policy only 71 percent to 80 percent of the time, the IG found. Furthermore, not every computer running the Microsoft Windows XP or Vista operating systems complied with the standard security settings defined by the Office of Management and Budget's Federal Desktop Core Configuration mandate. The deadline for adopting the configurations for all agency systems was Feb. 1.

The IRS also failed to validate that system applications have the required electronic authentication controls to ensure only authorized users can gain access, the report stated. OMB requires agencies to conduct a final validation confirming that systems achieve the required e-authentication assurance level, but the IG "determined that three of the five e-authentication applications did not include e-authentication validation tests during certification."

The agency plans to revise its process for validating e-authentication assurance levels in time for the 2009 FISMA reporting period.

"Overall, the IRS has made steady progress in complying with FISMA requirements, and it continues to place a high priority on efforts to improve its security program," the IG reported.

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