National Security

Watchdog Says State Dept. Bungles Too Many Cyber Attacks

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Ethan Barton Editor in Chief
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More than half of more than two dozen cyber attacks against the Department of State were mishandled by officials responsible for digital security, a government watchdog said Wednesday.

Accounting firm Williams, Adley & Company-DC LLP evaluated the State Department’s cybersecurity program and reviewed 25 cybersecurity incidents in September and October 2014 on behalf of the agency’s inspector general.

“For 14 of the 25 cybersecurity incidents evaluated, [Computer Incident Response Team] personnel did not fully comply with categorization guidelines, reporting requirements and remediation timelines as defined in the department’s information security policies and procedures,” the report said.

Of those, seven attacks were either not remediated or not caught quickly, four were not reported to the Computer Emergency Readiness Team quickly, and another two were not reported at all.

One incident wasn’t corrected for over 200 hours – or about eight and one-third days, the report said. Another incident wasn’t even reported for nearly 223 hours – more than nine days – after it was discovered.

There were 303 priority cybersecurity incidents during the reviewed period, according to the report. Nearly 170 of those would have been mishandled if the State Department followed the same trend.

“These deficiencies occurred primarily because of insufficient communication between” several offices, and a lack of oversight, the report said.

“Without an effective IR&R program, the department may be unable to properly identify weaknesses, restore IT operations in a timely manner and identify and respond to cybersecurity incidents, which could potentially lead to interruptions of critical operations and hinder the department’s ability to achieve its core mission,” the report continued.

“Over the past year, the department reported multiple network intrusions that caused unscheduled downtimes, loss of productivity and, in some cases, loss of data,” the report said.

State Department agreed to update its procedures to correct the problems.

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