By Matthew Weigelt
Mar. 24, 2006
Taxpayers' financial and personal information remains at risk because
the Internal Revenue Service has not yet strengthened its information
security measures, according to a new Government Accountability Office
The IRS fixed 41 of the 81 faults GAO discovered last year, the report
states. Nevertheless, "GAO identified new information security control
weaknesses that threaten the confidentiality, integrity and
availability of IRS' financial information systems and the information
they process," according to the report, which was released today.
The IRS has not established effective electronic access controls
related to network management, user accounts, file permissions and
logging and monitoring of security-related events, the report states.
The agency has also failed to install other controls to secure
"Collectively, these weaknesses increase the risk that sensitive
financial and taxpayer data will be inadequately protected against
disclosure, modification or loss, possibly without detection, and
place IRS operations at risk of disruption," the report states.
GAO recommends that the IRS align policies related to password age and
configuration settings with federal guidelines, review system security
plans, give specialized training to contractors, and update emergency
For emergency plans, the report suggests training non-IRS staff
members to restore operations and updating disaster recovery plans. It
also recommends installing UNIX-based hardware and equipment for
processing applications and data at the IRS' disaster recovery hot
site, an alternative processing place to use in an emergency. Until
the agency acts on these recommendations, "it is at risk of not being
able to appropriately recover in a timely manner," the report states.
IRS Commissioner Mark Everson expressed agreement with GAO's
assessment in a Feb. 27 letter to GAO's director of information
technology, Gregory Wilshusen.
"Because the IRS' solution extends beyond the specific findings and
addresses the root cause of the weaknesses at an enterprisewide level,
a majority of the weaknesses remain open," Everson wrote. "However, as
a result of this agencywide approach and other initiatives we have
under way, the IRS now has stronger controls to protect taxpayer
He said IRS officials share the responsibility for IT security.
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