Security Gaps at Federal Nuclear Lab

Friday, April 22, 2011 @ 06:04 AM gHale

Vital national security data does not receive adequate protection at the Lawrence Livermore National Nuclear Laboratory and federal managers are improperly allowing contractors to make decisions about sensitive information, according to an auditor’s report.

In some cases, contractors made “security-significant” changes to the computer systems that store information about the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile without the approval of the federal official in charge of those systems, according to the report from the Energy Department’s inspector general.

In other cases, lab officials haven’t rewritten their security protocols to reflect new minimum standards to prevent cyber attacks mandated by the Committee on National Security Systems, the report said.

The report blamed the failures on shoddy security planning and poor oversight from off-site officials at the National Nuclear Security Administration.

“Three of four system security plans we reviewed were incomplete and did not always sufficiently describe security controls and how they were implemented on the systems,” the report said.

The Livermore security plans fell short on more than 25 metrics, including plans for what to do if a fire breaks out in the lab, the report said.

The auditor’s report is the result of a series of security failings at Energy Department agencies in recent years, including poor security controls at another storehouse for nuclear data, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, that led to more than 50 instances of classified data being either compromised or potentially compromised between 2002 and 2007.

The Los Alamos lab introduced new security procedures in 2006 that reduced the number of security breaches.

The Livermore lab has remedied some security failings pointed out in prior IG reports, the auditors said, including ensuring that classified and nonclassified information are not in the same computer terminal.

The auditors recommended the National Nuclear Security Administration give clearer guidance to Livermore and other labs and develop better procedures for tracking those labs’ adherence to security protocols.

Livermore managers generally agreed with the report’s findings but disagreed with auditors about the scope of cyber security requirements that should apply to the lab, arguing the auditors were interpreting some federal security directives too broadly.

Lab management said “corrective actions were already under way,” the report said, but did not include “specific corrective actions.

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