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Flaws in DHS Systems Put Sensitive Data at Risk: Audit

A report released on Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General called for improved coordination between DHS agencies in order to meet cyber threats.

A report released on Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General called for improved coordination between DHS agencies in order to meet cyber threats.

One of the DHS’s missions is to coordinate protection, prevention, mitigation and recovery from cyber incidents, and to oversee the IT security of government networks. The DHS is assisted in its mission by three component agencies: the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD), and United States Secret Service (USSS).

Each of these agencies has important responsibilities in regards to cyber security. For example, the ICE focuses on cross-border cyber crimes and criminal activities facilitated by the Internet. The USSS’s investigations help identify, locate and arrest individuals targeting critical financial systems, while the NPPD’s responsibilities include the protection of critical infrastructure and federal networks, threat and vulnerability analysis dissemination, and incident response coordination.

While cooperation and coordination between these agencies has been strengthened, the performance audit conducted by the OIG found that there is still room for improvement.

Some of the recommendations made by the OIG are related to vulnerabilities found on the internal websites of ICE and USSS, including cross-site scripting (XSS), cross-site request forgery (CSRF), information leakage, session fixation, and command injection flaws.

Furthermore, the ICE has failed to implement required DHS baseline configuration settings on Cyber Crimes Center (C3) servers and workstations. These security issues could allow an attacker to gain access to sensitive information, the audit showed.

Impacted agencies have been advised to take steps to address the security holes. Some of the vulnerabilities had been resolved by the time the report was made public, but the OIG is not completely satisfied with the results.

Several other security issues have been discovered during the performance audit. The problems exist due to a lack of coordination, training, guidance, and compliance with existing policies, the report said.

Homeland Security has been advised to develop a strategic plan to improve cyber awareness in its agencies, establish training programs, create a system for sharing information, strengthen its IT systems, and ensure that ICE and USSS become compliant with IT security policies.

“DHS plays a pivotal role in coordinating the national response to cyber incidents that result from the vulnerabilities created by our increased reliance on IT systems. While our audit showed improved coordination between DHS components in carrying out their cybersecurity functions, we have identified duplication of effort and lack of effective policies and controls,” said John Roth, inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security.

Related Reading: Federal Facilities Vulnerable to Cyber Attacks

Related Reading: DHS to Proactively Scan Civilian Agency Networks for Cyber Threats

Written By

Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

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