Senate report slams agencies for poor cyber security

Federal agencies still score poorly on data protection

Graphic representing a network and cyber security. A series of hexagons with padlocks inside superimposed over a map of the world.

According to a US Senate report, seven out of eight federal agencies fail to protect critical data due to inadequate cyber security

The bipartisan report revealed details of an investigation by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs into cyber security measures in the federal government

"What this report finds is stark," said the document, titled Federal Cybersecurity: America's Data at Risk. "Inspectors general identified many of the same issues that have plagued Federal agencies for more than a decade. Seven agencies made minimal improvements, and only DHS managed to employ an effective cybersecurity regime for 2020." 

The report examined Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, State, Social Security, and Transportation. It follows a similar investigation into the same eight agencies in 2019 and shows little progress. 

Most agencies reviewed still failed to install security patches quickly. At least seven of the eight agencies, including the DHS, are still using legacy systems that no longer receive vendor support, rendering them vulnerable to cyber attacks, warned the report. Seven of the agencies also failed to maintain proper asset inventories, it added. 

The document lists several failings across the agencies. The State Department could not provide documentation for 60% of sample employees with access to its classified network. It also failed to delete thousands of accounts for employees who had left the agency. 

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The report added that penetration testers stole sensitive personal information, including 200 credit card numbers, from the Department of Education without employees noticing. Plus, the Department of Agriculture had "a significant number of high vulnerabilities" on its public-facing websites that the agency didn't know about. 

Recommendations from the Committee included central coordination for cyber security through a government-wide office that handles the issue for the federal government. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) should also adopt a risk-based budgeting model that would allocate funds more effectively to close loopholes most likely to be exploited, it added. 

In May, the White House issued an executive order addressing cyber security weaknesses across the federal government. That sought to address IT supply chain risk, which the Government Accountability Office warned was lacking across federal agencies in December. 

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