Cybersecurity

IG: DHS Does Not Track Security Training of System Administrator Contractors

A cyber security analyst works in the "watch and warning center" in Idaho Falls, Idaho in 2011.

A cyber security analyst works in the "watch and warning center" in Idaho Falls, Idaho in 2011. // Mark J. Terrill/AP file photo

The Homeland Security Department does not keep tabs on whether contractors that monitor vulnerabilities on federal networks have undergone training, according to a new inspector general audit.

These private sector system administrators support CyberScope, a central reservoir for incoming streams of data summarizing every federal agency's computer security posture. The composite view of threat-levels is intended to help Homeland Security leaders manage cyber risks governmentwide. The account of an inadequate security training program for system administrator contractors at DHS follows the alleged breach of top secret files by a system administrator contractor at the National Security Agency.

Homeland Security does not maintain records on who has taken security awareness and specialized information technology training; nor does the department ensure that all training requirements have been completed, according to auditors. 

"CyberScope contractors may not have received the appropriate skills or knowledge to properly administer and secure the systems against potential cyber threats," Frank Deffer, assistant inspector general for the office of IT audits, wrote in the report. 

He said DHS "cannot guarantee the security of the data collected through CyberScope without ensuring that all people involved understand their roles and responsibilities and are adequately trained to perform them." Inspectors reported similar findings in 2011. 

It is now commonplace at Homeland Security to rely on contractors to do work historically performed by government employees, according to a 2010 Government Accountability Office audit. DHS took over responsibility for governmentwide cybersecurity that same year.

In a writtten response to a draft report, Suzanne Spaulding, acting undersecretary for the department's National Protection and Programs Directorate, wrote that the department is developing "procedural controls for tracking CyberScope administrators to ensure training meets or exceeds applicable" federal requirements.

House Democrats voiced concerns about dispatching so many potentially undertrained contractors to handle sensitive cyber data. 

“With the recent national security leak revelations involving a contractor at NSA, we no longer have to speculate about whether contractors are capable of leaking sensitive information," Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., the minority leader of the Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement. 

On several occasions, DHS officials have indicated they intend to hire more federal workers to carry out cybersecurity responsibilities, and "this timely report makes clear that DHS must address this weakness immediately," he added. “Since we know that DHS has a longstanding overreliance on contractors, it is puzzling that DHS has not taken the solid steps to ensure its contractor workforce gets proper security training.”

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