Code in Supply Chain a Threat

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 @ 04:03 PM gHale

Agencies that focus on national security data and programs need to do more to secure their information technology supply chains, a government watchdog said.

Federal agencies are not required to track “the extent to which their telecommunications networks contain foreign-developed equipment, software or services,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report said, and they typically are aware only of the IT vendors nearest to them on the supply chain, not the numerous vendors downstream.

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That has left IT systems at the Energy, Homeland Security and Justice departments more vulnerable to malicious or counterfeit software installed by other nations’ intelligence agencies or by nonstate actors and hackers.

U.S. enemies could use that malicious software to secretly pull information from government systems, erase or alter information on those systems, or even take control of them remotely.

The Justice Department identified measures to protect its supply chain but has not developed procedures to implement those measures, the report said. Energy and Homeland Security haven’t identified measures to protect their supply chains at all, according to GAO.

The watchdog agency also examined the Defense Department, which it said had designed and effectively implemented a supply chain risk management program.

Defense has reduced its supply chain risk through a series of pilot programs and expects to have “full operational capability for supply chain risk management” by 2016, the report said. Those pilots focus on assessing the risk posed by particular vendors’ supply chains and on testing and evaluating the purchased systems for malicious components, GAO said.

The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team inside DHS found about one-fourth of roughly 43,000 agency-reported security incidents during fiscal 2011 involved malicious code that could have been installed somewhere along the supply chain, GAO said.

Globally sourced IT hardware buys can prove embarrassing for agencies that deal with national security data even if there’s no malicious or counterfeit technology inside the machines.