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Treasury computers said vulnerable

‘Billions at risk,’ says General Accounting Office

By Bob Sullivan

Feb. 5 — Government computers that keep track of trillions of dollars as they flow in 
an out of Washington D.C. remain vulnerable to computer hackers, according to a report 
released by Congress’ General Accounting Office. The report says that Treasury 
Department computer systems — which handle everything from Social Security checks to 
$2 trillion in tax and duty fee collections annually — are rife with security 
problems. Many of the vulnerabilities haven’t been fixed since the GAO first pointed 
out the flaws in 1999.

        THE GAO FOUND usernames and passwords were easy to guess in some cases, and 
that some employees had far-ranging access to systems that reached beyond their job 
duties. Dial-in access to some networks and mainframe computers were not properly 
monitored. And some security reports were not being followed up on, the GAO said.

       “Billions of dollars of payments and collections are at significant risk of 
loss or fraud, sensitive data are at risk of inappropriate disclosure, and critical 
computer-based operations are vulnerable to serious disruptions,” the report concluded.

       The report was sent to the Treasury Department in December; an excerpted 
version was made available to the public on Monday.

         In a letter of response the the critical report, Treasury Department 
commission Richard L. Gregg admitted there were problems, but said his agency had made 
“significant progress” in its efforts to secure government computers. He also said the 
General Accounting Office report was based on data that was a year old.
       “Although there is always room for improvement, I believe that we have not 
compromised the public trust in carrying out our payments, collections, and 
government-wide accounting responsibilities,” Gregg wrote.
       Still, the General Accounting Office report was at times scathing in its 
assessment of critical Treasury Department systems.
       ”(The) overall security control environment continues to be ineffective in 
identifying, deterring, and responding to computer control weaknesses promptly,” the 
report said. “In addition to new weaknesses, we found the (the Treasury Department) 
still needed to act on approximately 42 percent of the weaknesses discussed in our 
1999 report.”


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