Federal Employee Retirement Plan Struggles with Cyber Conflict of Interest

lolloj/Shutterstock.com

The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board refuses to let auditors probe until satisfied that FISMA directives will not fracture the Chinese wall between OMB and the board.

The board of a hacked federal employee retirement plan is struggling to comply with government cybersecurity rules, because of concerns the requirements infringe on the organization's independence, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board says.

The admission comes as the agency faces a grilling from senators over a Labor Department review that pointed out longstanding security weaknesses.

Data on Thrift Savings Plan members has been raided before. In 2011, attackers compromised the Social Security numbers and other personal data of 123,000 Thrift Savings Plan investors maintained on a contractor's network. More than 4.7 million federal civilian and military personnel participate in the plan.

Now, it has surfaced that the agency did not follow through on penetration testing, or “ethical hacking.” This key network defense involves letting a security professional poke around for holes in a system before the real bad guys do.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, penetration testing is mandatory to comply with the Federal Information Security Management Act.

But the board, which manages $450 billion in total assets, refuses to let auditors probe until it's satisfied that FISMA directives will not fracture the Chinese wall between OMB and the board. 

"The primary issue for us surrounding FISMA does not relate to specific controls or technical guidance -- instead, because of our status as fiduciaries, any potential issues arise in the area where OMB may have the authority to direct agency spending," board spokeswoman Kim Weaver said. 

"Congress determined in enacting" the Federal Employee's Retirement System Act "that it would be inappropriate for the president or Congress to tell [the board] how to spend participant money, particularly when the board and the executive director has a fiduciary responsibility to the plan," she said.

Overseers Cannot Probe Board Networks

At a board meeting last month, the Labor Department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration auditors complained about being restricted from inspecting hardware and software.

Weaver on Friday acknowledged, "To date, no penetration test has been conducted." The board’s contractors have not tested for vulnerabilities, either.

A Thrift Savings Plan contract awarded to SAIC in 2013 included penetration testing clauses. But the agency instructed contractors to first address "other important information security matters including expanding and strengthening a first-generation security operations center and a network operations center,” Weaver said.

SAIC itself is no stranger to data thieves. The same year savings plan records were breached, separately, information on 4.9 million TRICARE military health care beneficiaries was compromised -- after the theft of computer tapes from an SAIC contractor's car. 

Meanwhile, various hackers over the past year have successfully taken aim at government-held data from the Postal Service, State Department and federal employee background checker KeyPoint.

Last week, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee aired concerns about the findings by Labor officials.  

The board should "allow the auditors to conduct the necessary penetration testing so that you may know where any potential vulnerabilities might exist before those who wish to steal our information do," committee chairman Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc, and ranking Democrat Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said in a letter to the board. 

"Going forward, I expect that you will make every effort to meet your obligations under FISMA," they added. In 2014, the agency did not submit compliance data to OMB, the senators said.

On Friday, Weaver clarified that the board has not blocked Labor from performing system testing. 

The board "has never taken the position that DOL auditors were not permitted to conduct network penetration testing," she said. At the time of last month's meeting, the board was cooperating to ensure there are "proper legal and other safeguards in place prior to allowing anyone such sensitive access to its systems, as that is the obligation the [board] has to our participants."

(Image via lolloj/ Shutterstock.com)

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.