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Unisys receives some harsh criticism for Homeland Security intrusions

Investigators stated on Monday that someone from China or with connections to the nation was responsible for a large amount of successful attacks on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Hackers compromised dozens of DHS computers, moving sensitive information to Chinese-language websites.  Congressional investigators made the announcement Monday and called for a full-fledged Congressional investigation. The FBI is concurrently conducting an investigation of the incidents.

Congress puts much of the blame on incompetence at security firm Unisys, who the DHS contracted for security purposes.  They feel Unisys's negligence may even be criminal.

"The results of our [committee] investigation suggest that the department is the victim not only of cyber attacks initiated by foreign entities, but of incompetent and possibly illegal activity by the contractor charged with maintaining security on its networks," said Democratic Reps. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and James Langevin of Rhode Island.

The attacks had gone unnoticed for months according to the Congressional committee. How much information was stolen and how critical the stolen documents were has not been ascertained, but the committee stated that the attacks "took significant amounts of information."

"We know where it [the information] was taken from, but we don't know what was taken. We only know how many megabytes was taken.  Everything was on the LAN A, which was an unclassified network. To the best of our knowledge there was no classified information [taken]," said one DHS staffer.

The information was moved to a "web hosting service that connects to Chinese Web sites."
Thompson and Langevin have written a letter demanding a full investigation and have stated that "contractors provided inaccurate and misleading information to Department of Homeland Security officials about the source of these attacks and attempted to hide security gaps in their capabilities."

Thompson and Langevin's statements do not name the contractor involved, but the Associated Press has learned that Unisys has a $1 billion contract to safeguard DHS computers.

Unisys publicly disputed the allegations, which first broke Monday in a Washington Post article.

The Congressional committee stated that Unisys had been tasked to install intrusion detection systems, which were not fully active at the time of the attack.  If the systems had been in place, the attack would likely have been detected and dealt with.

Unisys did not directly respond to Congressional accusations, but instead chose to respond to reports about the reports on the incident.

"Unisys vigorously disputes the allegations made in today's article,” said the company in a statement.  “Facts and documentation contradict the claims described in the article, but federal security regulations preclude public comment on specific incidents."

"We can state generally that the allegation that Unisys did not properly install essential security systems is incorrect. In addition, we routinely follow prescribed security protocols and have properly reported incidents to the customer in accordance with those protocols."

DHS officials would not comment on these developments or Unisys's possible criminal negligence.

They did make a statement that may indicate that they will be dumping Unisys soon.  DHS stated that they will be "re-competing" the Unisys contract and other contracts "to integrate it into a single contract that maximizes the tax payer's dollar."

Although Unisys can still compete for the contract, previous performance will be weighed, said DHS spokesman Russ Knocke.

DailyTech reported in June on early results of this investigation, which cited reports of over 800 break-ins and over 7000 detected security flaws in the DHS's systems.

The possible Chinese connection also follows closely on the heels of the DailyTech story that broke earlier this month which reported on the Pentagon's claims that China's PLA hacked into Pentagon computers.  Reports indicated that the attack was the largest and most disruptive attack on the Pentagon in their history.

As the U.S. government departments face numerous threats at home and abroad, from malicious hackers to incompetent security firms, they must constantly rethink and rebuild their defenses.  It is not easy being one of the world's largest cyber targets.



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RE: Not bad actually
By iFX on 9/26/2007 10:31:30 AM , Rating: 2
Also depending on what you use to scan your network (we use MARS) you will find that there are LOTS of "flaws" that are not actual vulnerbilities or are located in an area of the network where they can't be exploited.


RE: Not bad actually
By Gul Westfale on 9/26/2007 10:42:10 AM , Rating: 2
true, but a government agency is not a company; it handles sensitive data relating to citizens, possible criminal investigations, security clearance codes, and the like. the level of security must be higher than that of some company.

i wonder if the US government actually held a competition to find out who is best at providing security, or if they simply went with the lowest bidder. if the latter is true, then hey only have themselves to blame (and the hackers, of course).


RE: Not bad actually
By mdogs444 on 9/26/07, Rating: -1
RE: Not bad actually
By Nik00117 on 9/26/2007 12:01:40 PM , Rating: 2
LOL thats actually kinda funny um the Military takes lowest bidder regradless. Right now we have something like a 200 million dollar project in utter failure because the military esstinitally went for the cheapest route.


RE: Not bad actually
By mdogs444 on 9/26/07, Rating: 0
RE: Not bad actually
By Polynikes on 9/26/2007 1:01:29 PM , Rating: 2
His point is still valid. Just because 200 million is "chump change" compared to the overall budget doesn't mean it isn't a waste of money.

A lot of military hardware is crap that was a waste of money. Considering how large the military's budget is, you'd think they could afford to spend a few extra bucks for superior stuff.


RE: Not bad actually
By Master Kenobi (blog) on 9/26/2007 1:35:05 PM , Rating: 1
Yes, but if you look at it from the bigger picture $200million is chump change. That $200 million might have resulted in a failed product but it did result in R&D that can be used later. The F-35 is a good example, it was cheap and easy and R&D wasn't very costly. Why? Because it re-used most of the technology that was developed during the F-22 project and that sucker costs in the billions range. While not everything brings about a direct return on investment, everyone ususally does walk away with more than they had originally.


RE: Not bad actually
By sandytheguy on 9/26/2007 6:09:26 PM , Rating: 3
JSF development was almost $45 Billion. I wouldn't consider that cheap, even for the military.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A382...


RE: Not bad actually
By afkrotch on 9/27/2007 12:52:26 AM , Rating: 2
$45 billion from the US, UK, and other partner governments. It wasn't all the US's money. Course the F-22 was all the US's money, which was $62 billion for the program. That's not including the purchase of the aircrafts at $137 million a piece.


RE: Not bad actually
By Christopher1 on 9/27/2007 5:25:45 AM , Rating: 1
It is chump change compared to the military budget (which should be about 1/5 or less of what it is right now) but that is still a lot of money!

Hell, I could live on that money forever, even buying my video games and other things that I like as much as I would wish to!


RE: Not bad actually
By rgsaunders on 9/26/2007 5:20:44 PM , Rating: 2
Remember, the military does not make their own rules for tendering and accepting contracts, but have to abide by those rules imposed on them by government accounting rules. I am all too familiar with these limitations having spent years trying to manage purchasing for and manufacture of prototype and production avionics systems. The rules are a result of every business and their dog trying to get a slice of the government pie. Plus throw in the senior staff who get kickbacks in the form of retirement employment etc and its a wonder any military purchasing project succeeds at all.


RE: Not bad actually
By spluurfg on 9/27/2007 3:06:33 AM , Rating: 2
For those of you who don't know, Unisys is actually one of the big names in the telecom-security services out there, and one of their big businesses is secure phone lines for check clearing for financial services and banks. I doubt this is a case of bottom fishing for services, as Unisys probably is responsible for the security of transactions representing many billions of dollars a day and charges an arm and a leg for it.


RE: Not bad actually
By Gneisenau on 9/26/2007 2:32:49 PM , Rating: 2
I can attest that the take the low bidder a lot. We often lost jobs to less qualified companies because their bid was lower than us. Sometimes it works out ok for them sometimes not.


RE: Not bad actually
By Adonlude on 9/26/2007 7:05:14 PM , Rating: 2
Actually the govt goes for the lowest bidder quite often depending on the situation. I am an engineer for a government contracting company and we often times have to bid lower than we know is realistic so that we can win the contract. However, the program I am working on presently is a different situation. The branch of the military that is funding my current project has extra money that must be spent to justify their budget, therefore we get to take our time and spend lots of money to build a really great product. We call this a "cost plus" situation. As an engineer I really have no interest in these polotics and finances, but you pick it up a bit along the way.


RE: Not bad actually
By 1078feba on 9/27/2007 10:37:46 AM , Rating: 1
The "lowest bidder" scenario is completely dependent upon the number of firms out there who are capable of completing the work prescribed and producing the specified product/service, whatever that may be.

If all we need is a new model widget that is low tech, mass produced and I used to pay $49.99/unit for it, then yes, we use the lowest bidder.

If it's a new laser designator/tracker for the F/A-18, then we're going to with Boeing, who built the aircraft, has done, due to contractual obligations, all of the engineering on all aircraft mods and improvements and knows the systems from the inside and out. This ensures that we get the right product the very first time, with an absolute minimum of headache. Do we pay more for the final product? Yeah, almost surely. But there are costs associated with the bidding process as well, and those are avoided, as well as post manufacturing problems with actually using the thing that most assuredly would occur.

And there are an unbelieveable number of checks and balances in the procurement system to keep everyone honest, and the penalties are very, very severe.

I can understand the cynicism, but being on the inside, working these issues, sitting in on countless meetings and having to push to get funding, I know how it really works. It is ridiculously, ludicrously difficult, with so many boxes to get checked off that ensure legality and impartiality that I am truly amazed that anything ever actually gets purchased.


RE: Not bad actually
By 1078feba on 9/27/2007 10:54:36 AM , Rating: 2
For clarification purposes, there are other companies that we do contract with for those types of products/services, like Raytheon, Honeywell, etc., but very often they are involved with the acft maufacturer in the first place, and already know the systems.


RE: Not bad actually
By bhieb on 9/26/2007 10:50:38 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
or if they simply went with the lowest bidder


Funny like they ever care about the lowest bidder. More than likely they went with the friend of the guy who was responsible for the contract, or some other ex goverment guy that used the old revolving door to get him a good VP job at Unisys in return for the contract. Happens all the time.


RE: Not bad actually
By Gul Westfale on 9/26/2007 10:53:09 AM , Rating: 2
you are right, i'm sorry; of course nepotism is the correct answer. it's early in the morning and my sarcasmo-meter has not kicked in yet.


RE: Not bad actually
By retrospooty on 9/26/2007 11:33:19 AM , Rating: 2
Its less like nepotism, and more like going with the company that "gave" the deciding voters the best "gifts" ... gifts being money.


RE: Not bad actually
By Christopher1 on 9/27/2007 5:28:33 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, you are 100% right, retrospooty. That is the usual thing and reason why a company with a piss-poor on non-existant track record in a business gets the contract from the government: either they gave money to the politicians or people who are giving the contract out or they have a son or daughter/some other family member of the person giving out the contract in their company.


RE: Not bad actually
By spluurfg on 9/27/2007 8:18:46 AM , Rating: 2
Having a former CEO and chairman currently occupying the vice-position of a high level government office also helps you land lucrative contracts without requiring the usual time-wasting bidding process.


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