[ISN] Appeals court orders Interior Department back online

From: InfoSec News (alerts@private)
Date: Tue Jul 11 2006 - 22:44:32 PDT


By Angela Gunn
July 11, 2006

A long-running battle over security practices at the U.S. Department of 
the Interior entered another chapter today as circuit court judges set 
aside an earlier ruling which barred the agency from most Internet usage, 
including e-mail. In addition, the circuit court removed judge Royce C. 
Lamberth from the case he has presided over for nearly a decade.

The original class-action suit, filed in 1996, sought to correct 
historical mismanagement of various American Indian trust accounts. The 
case, Cobell v. Kempthorne, seeks an accounting for billions of dollars 
held in trust since the late 19th century and belonging to approximately 
half a million American Indians and their heirs.

The original shutdown in December 2001 took all Interior Department 
information off-line, including Web sites for the National Parks System as 
well as payment systems for both employees and contractors. About 40% of 
the systems were restored within three months.

The tug of war between the district and circuit courts over Cobell heated 
up again in 2004 when District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth ordered that 
all of the department's computers be disconnected from the Internet, 
except for those deemed essential for public safety reasons. The systems 
of the National Park Service, the Office of Policy Management and Budget 
and the U.S. Geological Survey were also exempt. The Circuit Court for the 
District of Columbia set aside that ruling in December 2004.

An internal IT audit in April 2005 revealed potential weaknesses in Bureau 
of Land Management servers keeping track of oil and gas leases on Indian 
land in the west. No breach was detected, but systems were taken off-line 
to correct the problems found. In October, Lamberth once again ordered 
much of the network off-line, but the Interior department received an 
administrative stay on that order.

In a statement Tuesday on the IndianTrust.com site, plaintiff Elouise 
Cobell praised Lamberth's work on the case over the years and stated that 
the decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court, since it appears to 
conflict with previous rulings concerning the Interior Department and its 
security practices.

The department's computer security has consistently been found substandard 
by the House Committee of Government Reform, which issues an annual report 
card on security implementations in federal agencies. The Interior 
Department has received a failing grade in four of the five years the 
report card has been compiled.

PDF copies of the ruling [1] and of the order removing Lamberth [2] from 
the case may be viewed online.

[1] http://pacer.cadc.uscourts.gov/docs/common/opinions/200607/05-5388a.pdf
[2] http://pacer.cadc.uscourts.gov/docs/common/opinions/200607/05-5269a.pdf

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