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IRS Still Hasn't Fixed Security Problems

Agency has corrected only 29 of the 98 weaknesses cited in its review last year, GAO says

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service still hasn't resolved almost 70 percent of the IT security issues that the Government Accountability Office identified at the agency last year, according to a report published last week.

The new GAO report states that the IRS has fixed just 29 of the 98 weaknesses that the GAO cited in its review of the agency last year. In a response last April, IRS officials had promised to respond quickly to the unfavorable review. (See Audit Uncovers IRS Security Flaws.)

The IRS is having trouble implementing some key security initiatives, including strong passwords, least-privilege controls, encryption, and patch management, among others. "Such weaknesses increase the risk of compromise of critical IRS systems and information," the GAO says.

Several of the IRS's problems stem from giving employees more access than they need, both logically and physically, according to the GAO.

"For example, one data center allowed all mainframe users access to powerful systems management functions," the report says. "Approximately 60 persons had access to commands that could allow them to make significant changes to the operating system." Excessive file privileges were also granted to some users, the GAO says.

Physical access is also a problem at the IRS, according to the review. "One data center allowed at least 17 individuals access to sensitive areas without justifying a need based on their job duties," the GAO says.

In addition, the IRS's IT staff is sometimes given a wide range of duties and access privileges that aren't segregated properly, according to the GAO. For example, "The IRS configured a user group that granted access to a broad range of system functions beyond the scope of any single administrator's job duties," the report says.

"Granting this type of access to individuals who do not require it to perform their official duties increases the risk that sensitive information or programs could be improperly modified, disclosed, or deleted," the GAO states.

In a written response, IRS acting commissioner Linda Stiff conceded "that we have not yet fully implemented critical elements of our agency-wide information security program." She said the IRS is "taking aggressive steps to correct previously reported weaknesses and improve our overall information security program."

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