Study Shows Fed Workers In Dark About Security
SecureInfo, McLean, Va., a security firm that specializes in federal government services, has published a study (available on request for download here.) showing that although more than 90 percent of agency workers have completed a security awareness training course in the last 12 months, some 65 percent of them say they have never heard of FISMA, the federal IT security standard.
The Federal Information Security Management Act defines the U.S. government’s requirements for information security, both in IT and among workers and contractors, according to Forbes.
Under FISMA, agency employees are required to complete a “security awareness” course every year, and both the SecureInfo study and the FISMA report to Congress indicate that more than 90 percent of workers have completed that course.
Yet, when SecureInfo polled government employees about FISMA, 65 percent said they had never heard of it. Forty-seven percent of those who had heard of it described it as “a compliance headache.” Only 45 percent of those who had heard of FISMA believe it to be “an effective means of improving security posture,” the study says.
“The federal government spent approximately $74 million on security awareness training last year,” says Chris Fountain, president and CEO of SecureInfo. “But based on what we found in the study, it doesn’t seem to have been very effective.”
Other reports also support the company’s thesis that federal agencies are not doing enough on the security front. Just last week, the General Accounting Office published a report stating that the FBI’s IT systems are vulnerable to insider attack. And last month, cyber security experts told Congress that federal agencies are not prepared for online attacks.
The problem, in part, is that while government workers are trained in security, they are seldom tested on their knowledge or practices, says Fountain. “There ought to be some sort of testing, and if they don’t pass, then it should be reflected in [employee performance] appraisals,” he tells Forbes.
Government agencies also should be penetration-tested frequently during the course of the year, to determine whether employees are adhering to policy. “In the public sector, there have been studies that show that more than 80 percent of breaches occur because of inadvertent mistakes — employees who don’t know the policy or simply ignore it without any malicious intent,” Fountain says. “Those are the employees you want to target.”
Fountain recommends systematic testing of federal security systems, both through ethical hacking from the outside and through social engineering to test the physical security of government buildings and desktops. “You don’t have to do it all at once,” he says. “You can do it in small increments, testing different elements over the course of the year.”