Homeland Security Rapped On Wireless Security

The department's inspector general's office says DHS has failed to establish adequate security controls over its wireless network.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

July 1, 2004

2 Min Read

The Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General contends the department has failed to establish adequate security controls over its wireless network.

In a report made public Wednesday, the inspector general said wireless policy is incomplete, procedures don't establish a sound baseline for wireless security implementation, and the National Wireless Management Office isn't exercising its full responsibilities in addressing Homeland Security's wireless technologies. In addition, the report said, the department hasn't established adequate security measures to protect its wireless networks and devices.

"Although the DHS security policy requires certification and accreditation for its systems to operate, none of the wireless systems reviewed had been certified or accredited," the 42-page report says. "As a result of these wireless network exposures, DHS cannot ensure that the sensitive information processed by its wireless systems are effectively protected from unauthorized accesses and potential misuse."

Except for the contention that the National Wireless Management Office isn't exercising its full responsibilities, department CIO Steve Cooper generally concurred with the inspector general's assessment. Cooper asserts that the Wireless Management Office has made significant progress and is improving its outreach throughout the department so all offices become aware of its existence and responsibilities. In addition, Cooper said in a written response, the Wireless Management Office works closely with the department's chief information security officer to ensure that wireless security policy is properly formulated and disseminated, and that it's sufficient to ensure the department's wireless communications. Despite Cooper's response, the inspector general stands by his conclusion that oversight by the office of wireless functionality needs to be improved.

The report cited a number of problems. For instance, the inspector general said his office performed random 802.11b detection scans at 10 department facilities to identify rogue wireless devices, verify signal coverage for access points, and review configuration settings to evaluate security controls. Of four department offices that use 802.11x technology, none monitored wireless activity. They also failed to set a schedule to review access-point logs to identify unauthorized login attempts or to determine whether rogue devices had been introduced into the network. In addition, the inspector general found several 802.11x security vulnerabilities.

The inspector general offered five recommendations it says would help the department remedy the identified deficiencies. Specifically, the Homeland Security Department's CIO should:

• Define the conditions and limitations for using wireless technologies in the department's security policy

• Update the departmental IT Security Program Handbook for Sensitive Systems to include implementation procedures required by National Institute of Standards and Technology for the use of wireless technologies

• Require the National Wireless Management Office to provide the necessary oversight and guidance to align components' wireless programs with DHS's wireless goals--something Cooper contends it's already doing

• Implement a standardized configuration for wireless technologies on department networks

• Complete certification and accreditation for each departmental system

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