cybersecurity

A federal government that collects unprecedented personal detail on its citizens, but is a sieve when it comes to keeping those secrets, may finally be starting to address the problem of breaches of its IT systems – with a plan to spend $19 billion.

In President Obama’s annual budget proposal, a document that generally is ignored by Congress, he proposed the massive spending, including $3.1 billion to replace outdated systems.

Obama also announced Tuesday a new Cybersecurity National Action Plan to put in place strategies “to enhance cybersecurity awareness and protections, protect privacy, maintain public safety as well as economic and national security, and empower Americans to take better control of their digital security.”

“Identity theft is now the fastest growing crime in America,” the budget states. “Our innovators and entrepreneurs have reinforced our global leadership and grown our economy, but with each new story of a high-profile company hacked or a neighbor defrauded, more Americans are left to wonder whether technology’s benefits could risk being outpaced by its costs.”

The federal government itself has experienced a number of embarrassing breaches recently, including a breakdown at the Office of Personnel Management that left the information of 22 million current and former federal employees at risk.

As WND reported last week, many Americans are familiar with the National Security Agency programs monitor metadata of cellphone calls and the government’s collection of medical information and other personal details.

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Tom Fitton, president of the Washington watchdog Judicial Watch, said it’s simply not possible for the government to keep citizens’ details private.

Privacy expert and talk-show host Katherine Albrecht told WND the OPM hack was worse than most people realize, because it targeted people with specialized government applications and security clearances.

WND reported recently the House Oversight Committee was launching an investigation into claims hackers hit government software more than two years ago. The feds may have gone on using the software, unaware of the attack.

Hackers

Obama’s announcement Tuesday said his CNAP “directs the federal government to take new action now and fosters the conditions required for long-term improvements in our approach to cybersecurity across the federal government, the private sector, and our personal lives.”

Reaching to the bureaucracy for help, he said he’s establishing the “Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity” to collect strategic, business and technical thinkers to make recommendations.

Obama’s also creating a new title, federal chief information security officer, “to drive these changes across the government.”

His plan also has Americans making their passwords stronger, putting a “Federal Privacy Council” in charge of certain projects and, by springtime, releasing a policy for “national cyber incident coordination” that will evaluate “cyber incidents.”

“This is not ideological issue. It doesn’t matter if there’s a Democratic president or a Republican president. If you’ve got broken, old systems – computers, mainframes, software – that doesn’t work anymore, then you can keep on putting a bunch of patch on it but it’s not going to make it safe,” Obama said.

CNN reported the government’s top cybersecurity experts “acknowledge the new plan won’t entirely prevent further breaches, but say new steps are essential.”

Matthew Green, a cryptology expert at Johns Hopkins University, has warned about the possibility that government cyber security breakdowns are causing damage, The Hill reported.

Then there was Hillary Clinton’s running of classified information through her personal email server. In a 2011 email, she told an aide to remove the security headers on classified information and forward it to her unsecured smartphone.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

According to Albrecht, whose projects include the Startmail email service, which includes special privacy features, there’s no debate over the government security problem.

“The refrain we’ve heard over and over is they are legacy systems … too big to even figure out how to repair. Then you see this brand new, completely created out of thin air health-care database, created from the ground up in the wrong way [with the same problems,]” she said. “[Americans] were sold a bill of goods.”

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Last year, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, unleashed criticism on administration officials regarding government system security: “You failed. You failed utterly and totally.”

The hacking of government computers already has had a significant impact on U.S. operations. The BBC reported last year that the CIA was withdrawing staff from Beijing, “fearing data stolen from government computers could expose its agents.”

In 2014 alone, according to Nextgov, there were at least 10 major losses of data by the government.

During that time, the unclassified network at the executive office of the president was hacked, the State Department lost information to hackers, the postal service admitted a hack might have affected 800,000 workers, the Government Printing Office and the Government Accountability Office were targeted, questions were raised about the security at the glitch-abundant HealthCare.gov and even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was targeted.

Then, ZDNet noted, hackers accessed the private email of high government officials, and the OPM breach shook Americans’ confidence in the government’s ability to manage information.

That, critics noted, could “harm the U.S.’ domestic and foreign diplomatic and intelligence work.”

Taxpayers also were targeted when IRS data was stolen that year.

At the OCR portal, part of HHS, hundreds of breaches affecting at least 500 people each over the past few years are listed.

Other problem points:

  • Army National Guard members from as far back as 2004 are being warned their personal information may be at risk due to a data breach, separate from the massive Office of Personnel Management hack that compromised the outfit’s computer-stored information. The National Guard data breach is believed to have compromised members’ names, full Social Security numbers, addresses, dates of birth and other private information, The Hill reported.
  • Even the liberal press was outraged with Hillary Clinton’s decision to use a personal email account for all of her work-related communications, with both MSNBC and the New York Times basically asking: What were you thinking? Her use of a personal email account for her official security and diplomatic duties with the State Department may have violated federal law, the New York Times reported. She did not even possess a government email account during her four years at State, and aides never took steps to preserve the communications tied to her personal account on federal government servers, as required by the Federal Records Act, the newspaper found.

Even social media networks are becoming alarmed.

BBC reported recently that Twitter was sending warnings to users saying hackers may have sought their information.

“We believe that these actors (possibly associated with a government) may have been trying to obtain information such as email addresses, IP addresses, and/or phone numbers,” Twitter told some users.

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