Tuesday, September 25, 2007

DHS Debacle

Thanks to the Threat Level story FBI Investigates DHS Contractor for Failing to Protect Gov't Computer I learned of the Washington Post story Contractor Blamed in DHS Data Breaches:

The FBI is investigating a major information technology firm with a $1.7 billion Department of Homeland Security contract after it allegedly failed to detect cyber break-ins traced to a Chinese-language Web site and then tried to cover up its deficiencies, according to congressional investigators.

At the center of the probe is Unisys Corp., a company that in 2002 won a $1 billion deal to build, secure and manage the information technology networks for the Transportation Security Administration and DHS headquarters. In 2005, the company was awarded a $750 million follow-on contract.

On Friday, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) called on DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner to launch his own investigation.

As part of the contract, Unisys, based in Blue Bell, Pa., was to install network-intrusion detection devices on the unclassified computer systems for the TSA and DHS headquarters and monitor the networks. But according to evidence gathered by the House Homeland Security Committee, Unisys's failure to properly install and monitor the devices meant that DHS was not aware for at least three months of cyber-intrusions that began in June 2006.

Through October of that year, Thompson said, 150 DHS computers -- including one in the Office of Procurement Operations, which handles contract data -- were compromised by hackers, who sent an unknown quantity of information to a Chinese-language Web site that appeared to host hacking tools.

The contractor also allegedly falsely certified that the network had been protected to cover up its lax oversight, according to the committee.

"For the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent on building this system within Homeland, we should demand accountability by the contractor," Thompson said in an interview. "If, in fact, fraud can be proven, those individuals guilty of it should be prosecuted."


Wow. This is huge. I cannot remember any case like it. So what happened?

In the 2006 attacks on the DHS systems, hackers often took over computers late at night or early in the morning, "exfiltrating" or copying and sending out data over hours -- in one case more than five hours, according to evidence collected by the committee.

Five hours. That indicates one means of detecting this sort of activity: time-based analysis of session records.

In July 2006, a Unisys employee detected a possible intrusion but "downplayed it and low-level DHS security managers ignored it," the committee aide said.

It was not until Sept. 27, 2006, that two DHS systems managers noticed that their machines had been accessed with a hacking tool.

Unisys information technology employees began a probe and determined that the break-in affected more computers. They discovered that it reached back as far as June 13 that year and had continued through at least Oct. 1, eventually reaching 150 computers.

Among the security devices Unisys had been hired to install and monitor were seven "intrusion-detection systems," which flag suspicious or unauthorized computer network activity that may indicate a break-in. The devices were purchased in 2004, but by June 2006 only three had been installed -- and in such a way that they could not provide real-time alerts, according to the committee. The rest were gathering dust in DHS storage closets and under desks in their original packaging, the aide said.
(emphasis added)

This explains a lot!

Let's finish with this thought:

A Unisys spokeswoman, Lisa Meyer... said that Unisys has provided DHS "with government-certified and accredited security programs and systems, which were in place throughout 2006 and remain so today."

Exactly. C&A has absolutely zero operational security value, as I wrote in FISMA 2006 Scores.

I commend the Congressional committee tracking this problem and I welcome future reporting. I would love to be the expert witness in any trial between the government and Unisys, but that is outside the scope of my current employment!

5 comments:

eugenek said...

There seems to be an obvious conflict of interest here. How can the same company be hired to secure the network, and then certify it? Yes, C&A is useless, but this makes it even more so.

LonerVamp said...

Wow, thanks for more info on this! Talk about a mess!

e0n said...

In my opinion this was a failure on both ends. It was no secret that Unisys was doing a substandard job, so DHS security managers should have been diligent in investigating any incident low or high. This does not reflect well on either party.

rybolov said...

It's the magic of government contracting: You're only as squared-away as the government will let you be.

DHS has problems with personnel turnover, reorganization, and long-term vision. Not a big surprise that they don't have enough contractor oversight.

However, you all have been around long enough to know that the Washington Post never lies, right? =)

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