According to an internal audit at four NASA facilities, inspectors found that equipment was being sold without verifying that all data had been removed, in violation of existing data security requirements.
Personnel at NASA failed to remove data from obsolete
computers before selling or discarding them, according to a NASA Office of
Inspector General audit report released Dec. 8.
Titled "Preparing for the Space
's Retirement," the audit focused on the disposal
for shuttle-related processing and information technology
equipment that contain sensitive information about space shuttle operations and
The audit looked at four NASA facilities-Kennedy Space
Center in Florida, Johnson Space Center in Texas, Ames Research Center in
California and Langley Research Center in Virginia. Breaches were found at all
four facilities, according the report.
During the course of the audit, inspectors found 14
computers still containing data out of a sample of 730 pieces of IT equipment
that NASA was disposing. The auditors also found one computer being prepared
for sale that still contained shuttle technology data that were subject to
export controls under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
"Our review found serious breaches in NASA's IT
security practices that could lead to the improper release of sensitive
information related to the Space Shuttle and other NASA programs," NASA
Inspector General Paul Martin said in a statement.
Any electronic storage device that has ever contained
NASA information must be "sanitized" before being reassigned,
transferred or discarded, according to NASA's Procedural Requirements. Sanitation
data from the device
by overwriting, degaussing and/or destroying the
device so that it is impossible (or nearly so) to recover the data. After
sanitizing, the devices have to pass a validation test to confirm the process
was successful, according to the requirements.
While many hard drives passed the sanitation verification
test prior to being sold, auditors found several instances of drives being sold
despite failing the tests, according to the report. In one case, 10 computers
from the Kennedy Center
were put up for sale even though they'd failed sanitation verification testing.
Also at Kennedy, there were four computers being prepared for sale, despite
clearly being marked that they'd failed. It was one of these computers that
still contained shuttle technology data, according to the report.
Although the hard drives were being removed and destroyed
at Langley Center
before the computers were released to the public, personnel neglected to
properly account for the removed drives, the auditors found. "Most
concerning" was the fact that at Kennedy Center the removed drives were
kept in "an unsecured dumpster accessible to the public," said the
Center and Ames
were not conducting any verification tests to ensure the drives were sanitized,
according to the audit. At the Kennedy
the drives were tested by a third-party contractor, but appropriate managers
were not being notified properly when devices failed verification tests. The
third-party testing company labeled the failed drives before returning them,
but "despite clear markings indicating that the computers had failed
verification testing, no one took action to remove the remaining data from the
computers or to prevent their sale," according to the report.
The Kennedy, Johnson and Ames
centers were all using unapproved sanitizing software, according to the report.
"During our audit, we discovered significant
weaknesses in the sanitisation and disposal processes for IT equipment,"
the auditors wrote in the report.
The audit also found that NASA was selling computers on
which their IP addresses were prominently displayed. While the addresses
themselves are not considered sensitive information, it does provide hackers
with clues on what to target when attacking a NASA network.
Noting that many of the IT and property management personnel
were not familiar with the sanitization policy, the inspector general's office
was "troubled" that the NASA chief information officer did "not
reflect the sense of urgency we believe is required," according to the
In response to recommendations about reviewing and
correcting existing procedures, Linda Cureton, NASA's CIO,
said NASA's information disposal policy will be updated and new guidance
produced by the third quarter of the fiscal year of 2011, according to the
report. The auditors said the deadline for this action is not timely enough and
the promised actions insufficient to address the issues.