Failure to escalate MSD fault reports 'slack and sloppy' - CEO

Analysis of Deloitte report, including comment from Institute of IT Professionals

Security risks in the Ministry of Social Development’s kiosks, unambiguously identified by a team from Dimension Data subsidiary, in April last year were not referred up to a manager in the ministry of an appropriate level to make a decision on repairing the vulnerability, the report by Deloitte into the breach indicates.

Security-Assessment identified a number of weaknesses in the kiosks’ operation; the most crucial that have now been released are lack of separation between the kiosks and the main MSD network and the ability to access sensitive documents “stored on open shares within the MSD environment.”

Network drives could be mapped from the kiosks “Being able to map network drives gives kiosk users the ability to connect to available [Microsoft network] shares on the Ministry’s corporate network,” says the Deloitte report.

The kiosks acted as authenticated users of the network Active Directory domain.

These shortcomings are classed as “urgent” in the Security-Assessment report.

There is another factor classed above that, as “critical”, but the detail of this has been withheld under Official Information Act Section 6(c) – which says release might “prejudice the maintenance of the law, including the prevention, investigation, and detection of offences, and the right to a fair trial”.

“Senior managers were never given an opportunity assess the risk and take action to address it,” says ministry chief executive Brendan Boyle. “From a management perspective, there seems to have been slack and sloppy internal processes and follow-ups.”

Boyle says the cost of repairing the vulnerabilities has not been assessed. Ministry staff held a meeting on May 12, 2011 to discuss the Security-Assessment report and identified one possible remedy – licenses for extra security software on the 190 routers in the network – at $109,561.60.

Boyle is “holding people accountable” for the failure, he says. “However, I need to do this in a fair and equitable way. I have launched four employment investigations at this stage.”

He refused to be drawn further on the detail of these investigations, or identify how high the people concerned are in the management hierarchy.

Of the 7300 items accessed by blogger Keith Ng, only records relating to eight children and two adults were classified as “sensitive”, says Boyle. Ng, who was at the presentation of the report, asked for a definition of “sensitive”. A range of factors is taken into account to arrive at that classification, Boyle said.

It appears, says Ng, that records identifying MSD clients as being under investigation for suspected fraud do not reach that threshold.

Boyle says it is too early to specify what remediation measures will be put in place before returning the kiosks to service.

Computerworld asked whether further attempts at accessing information on the network without authority would be subject to criminal sanction, bearing in mind that Section 252 of the Crimes Act, prohibiting unauthorised access to a computer system, has a subsection stipulating that the clause “does not apply if a person who is authorised to access a computer system accesses that computer system for a purpose other than the one for which that person was given access.” This, arguably would apply to any beneficiaries who were allowed to access MSD terminals to pursue their job search or eligibility for benefits.

MSD chief legal advisor Rupert Ablett-Hampson said he is sure a way could be found of prosecuting people for such access if it were deemed necessary.

Institute of IT Professional commends report

"The first report into the MSD kiosk debacle doesn't contain any significant surprises, however does confirm the underlying issues around the culture towards security in the Ministry and the failure of IT governance," says IITP CEO Paul Matthews.

"As was predicted when the breach was notified, and the report makes clear that it should never have happened and if good project management and IT governance layers were in place, the lack of action when issues were highlighted wouldn't have occurred.

"This incident highlights the need for a greater focus on IT governance and professional accountability in our profession - we look forward to continuing dialog with Government around more widespread implementation of independent professional certification of senior IT Professionals throughout Government.

"The handling of this situation should be commended, however. The Ministry acted fast to identify and isolate the issue, commissioned independent reports into what happened (and didn't try to hide the findings - even where damning) and most importantly, have set the scope of the second report to look at the contribution of the surrounding cultural issues towards security and related matters, which we believe will need to change. So a good response thus far, but the true test will be in what the Ministry does about it."

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