Education Contractor Withheld Data from Cyber Investigators

Maksim Kabakou/Shutterstock.com

The company had signed an agreement with the Education Department to provide access to their systems but says the government’s request is too broad.

An Accenture subcontractor interfered with a security audit of an Education Department financial aid system that inspectors say showed signs of unauthorized access.

The situation sounds reminiscent of claims by the government that background check provider USIS obstructed federal investigators from scanning the company's network after a 2014 breach.

This time, however, the subcontractor, Total System Services, a Georgia-based credit card processor, had signed an agreement with Education to provide login information months before inspectors visited in July.

Department Inspector General Kathleen Tighe said multiple times during a House hearing the vendor refused to provide her office with a list of all user IDs and their respective access rights.

Ultimately, the firm handed over a listing that left inspectors concerned other TSYS customers might have compromised sensitive student and parent information.

"In the end, they were not able to provide us very critical information for us to do a full vulnerability testing," Tighe said during a Tuesday House Oversight Committee hearing on the department's information security.

Education, with control over a trillion dollars in outstanding student loans, is the equivalent of Citibank in terms of its value to hackers.

Between 2001 and April, the tool in question, called the Common Origination and Disbursement system, had processed more than $1 trillion in federal student loans and grants, according to Accenture. The system provided $130 billion in aid to more than 14 million students and families.

One complication for TSYS is that its mainframe system houses private sector customer data, too.

"I understand the reluctance" to show details about client accounts, but given the rest of the data showed abnormal activity, such as "privileged users that had excessive permissions and the like, I worry about what other users we were not able to see had access to in our data,” Tighe said.

Her written testimony stated that inspectors "found accounts with excessive permissions and unauthorized access."

Inspector general spokeswoman Catherine Grant told Nextgov in an email they "are not aware of a breach, but there is always risk of that when there are accounts with excessive or unnecessary privileges."

This spring, Accenture announced a $966 million deal to continue servicing the student aid tool for another decade.

Accenture spokeswoman Joanne Veto said, "Accenture has cooperated fully with the inspector general and has tried to encourage TSYS to provide information that doesn't compromise their data or their customer information."

TSYS officials said they are obligated to protect not only Education's data but also the data of the more than 750 million cardholders they serve.

The agency's request "for all mainframe [user IDs] with privileges represented a request for sensitive information not applicable to DoED," TSYS spokesman Cyle Mims said in an email, referring to Education. "Providing such sensitive information would jeopardize the data security of other TSYS clients and represent a breach of contractual confidentiality."

He said TSYS provided Education with user IDs and privileges "applicable" to the department.

In the aftermath of an Office of Personnel Management hack that involved contractors and affected 21.5 million people, the White House has proposed requiring all vendors to open their recordbooks and systems to inspectors upon request.

An August draft regulation requires all agency security reviewers be granted access to vendor facilities, installations, operations, documentation, databases, IT systems, devices and personnel, regardless of where they are located.

(Image via Maksim Kabakou/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.