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Defense procurement system prone to security lapses

An electronic procurement system being developed at the Defense Department needs to have better security features before it can be used, according to an October report from the Pentagon's inspector general.

If deployed today, the Defense Procurement Payment System (DPPS) would lack two basic safety measures, said the IG's report on information security. The existing version does not have proper access controls or an adequate contingency plan if the systems feeding it fail.

"Existing weaknesses may lead to unauthorized access by potential users that may result in undetected alteration or misuse," the report said.

DPPS aims to eliminate the Defense Department's need for numerous computer systems that process payments to vendors. The Oracle-based financial system, on which Defense has already spent more than $80 million since the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) took over the project in 1998, will use standardized, sharable data and take advantage of the most recent developments in e-commerce.

But security failures could delay the system's full deployment, now scheduled for September 2003. The report said that DPPS does not comply with the 2000 Government Information Security Reform Act (GISRA), which requires agencies to conduct regular reviews of their security and information practices.

Defense's Program Management Office found that DPPS falls short of the recommended encryption levels and the current passwords do not help protect against hackers or preserve data integrity. DFAS is also lagging behind in testing the system's continuity-of-operations plan, the report said. The continuity plan would ensure continued functioning of the system in emergencies.

To improve the system's security and bring it into compliance with the reform act, DFAS needs to develop standard procedures for obtaining access to the system and complete more tests of the continuity-of-operations plan, the report said. DFAS should also review security documents related to the Defense Corporate Database, which will provide the new payment system with data on contracts, receipts, invoices and funding authorization, the report said.

DFAS agreed with the IG's recommendations.