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DHS Used Outdated, Unpatched Systems: Audit

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has made improvements to its information security program, but problems have still been identified in several areas, according to a report made public this week by the Office of Inspector General (OIG).

Following the devastating breach affecting the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in 2015, the DHS and its components were instructed to take measures to improve their cybersecurity infrastructure. The evaluation conducted by the OIG for the fiscal year 2016 found that the DHS has taken steps to enhance its information security program compared to the previous year.

However, as of August 2016, evaluators said they had still identified weaknesses that exposed both classified and unclassified systems. While agencies have started implementing secure configurations on their computers, as required by the United States Government Configuration Baseline (USGCB) initiative, there were still many systems where these settings had not been fully implemented.

Evaluators also found one classified server running Windows Server 2003, which no longer receives security updates since July 2015. Furthermore, in the case of Windows Server 2008 and Unix servers, only 74 percent and 65 percent, respectively, were configured properly.

Several workstations and servers had been running unpatched versions of Java, antivirus software, Internet Explorer, media players, Microsoft Office, and Adobe Acrobat and Reader. Investigators found that some of these applications had not been updated since March 2011, potentially leaving DHS data at risk.

After the OPM breach, the DHS was required to implement stronger authentication mechanisms through the use of personal identity verification (PIV) cards for both privileged and unprivileged access accounts. However, agencies such as Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Transport Security Administration (TSA) and the Coast Guard had still not been fully compliant at the time of the evaluation.

Moreover, the DHS and some of its components, including FEMA, the Secret Service and TSA, had still not ensured that remote access to their systems was properly secured, as required since mid-2015.

The OIG has made a series of recommendations to help the DHS further strengthen its program, and steps have already been taken to address the uncovered issues, the OIG said in its report.

Related: DHS Publishes National Cyber Incident Response Plan

Related: Flaws in DHS Systems Put Sensitive Data at Risk

Related: DHS Publishes Principles, Best Practices for Securing IoT

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Eduard Kovacs is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.