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Federal report: Government computers pose security risks

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The government's computer systems remain "fraught with weaknesses," posing security risks at a host of federal offices, including the Defense and Treasury departments, a report released Monday found.

The report, prepared for Congress by the General Accounting Office, said that the scope of the problem has broadened since an earlier audit, and it called for tighter security controls across the board. The report warned that hackers could still violate government computers and that even authorized users have the opportunity to modify, steal or destroy sensitive government data.

The report said most agencies had taken steps to tighten security since the last audit, and the range of weaknesses cited may be larger because the audits themselves are more comprehensive.

"Evaluations of computer security published since July 1999 continue to show that federal computer security is fraught with weaknesses and that, as a result, critical operations and assets continue to be at risk," the report states.

  MESSAGE BOARD
 

The Clinton administration has been embarrassed in the past few years by several high-profile computer security incidents. Nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee, who was fired from Los Alamos National Laboratory, has agreed to plead guilty to one felony count of mishandling classified information.

Former CIA Director John Deutch is under investigation by the Justice Department for allegedly keeping sensitive information on a home computer that was vulnerable to infiltration. Neither of those cases was cited in the GAO study.

The study is expected to be the focus of a House hearing Monday at which a congressional subcommittee will also release its own report card for the 24 federal departments and agencies that were scrutinized by the GAO.

It cited a myriad of problems, including computer security weaknesses at the Treasury Department that "increase the risk of fraud associated with billions of dollars of federal payments and collections." It also found similar flaws at the Defense Department, saying they "increase the vulnerability of various military operations that support the department's war-fighting capability."

The department uses computers more than any other federal government office.

Noting recent widespread computer viruses, the report called on government officials to redouble their efforts to improve security for their systems.

"More needs to be done, especially in the area of security program planning and management," the report says.

The Government Management, Information and Technology Subcommittee is scheduled to convene at 10 a.m. EDT Monday to discuss the findings of the report. The subcommittee is the same one that issued report cards last year grading federal agencies on Y2K preparedness.



RELATED STORIES:
Student admits hacking NASA and other U.S. government computers
June 30, 2000
RSA releases computer security patent
September 7, 2000
Republicans addresses computer security
August 3, 2000
Debate erupts over disclosure of software security holes
July 31, 2000
How hackers do it: Penetration testing
June 28, 2000

RELATED SITES:
U.S. Department of Defense
U.S. Treasury
The United States General Accounting Office
Government Management, Information and Technology Subcommittee


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