Snowden Effect on Government and Contractors – Plus the 7 Gov Stories

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But up front: The Snowden effect on government and contractors

Regardless of what you think about Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who has revealed that the government knows more than we ever imagined, there is no doubt that those revelations are having a ripple effect on government. And while we will do our best to try and quantify the impact, most of it is just speculation. Unfortunately, time will tell.

We are, however, getting some early looks at what NSA insiders thought.

Mike McConnell, the vice chairman of Booz Allen Hamilton and former NSA director, spoke this week at a event sponsored by The Wall Street Journal. Of course, Snowden was a contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton.

The WSJ report: Ex-NSA Chief Details Snowden's Hiring at Agency, Booz Allen

Mike McConnell, the vice chairman of Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. and former director of the National Security Agency, said Tuesday that Edward Snowden hacked into the NSA’s systems to steal the answers to the agency’s admissions test. He used his stellar performance on the test to attract an offer from the NSA and then, ultimately, from Booz Allen.

Mr. McConnell, speaking at The Wall Street Journal’s CIO Network event in San Diego, explained that Mr. Snowden ultimately gained access only to the lowest two of the four levels of information stored by the NSA, and stole about 1.7 million to 1.8 million documents. Of those, Mr. McConnell said, about a million were “no kidding insights to understanding U.S. intelligence services.”

Mr. Snowden’s ability to access such a large trove of documents raises the question of how organizations can organize information stores to prevent thefts of intellectual property. In response to a question from Michael Brown, vice president of global information technology at ExxonMobil Corp. about how the NSA organizes information storage, Mr. McConnell explained the four levels of information access. The first is a basic administrative level, and is made available “on a wiki so everyone [at the NSA] has access,” he said.

The next level, said Mr. McConnell, “is reporting. That is the result of collection of some activities going on. The reports are written in a way that attempt to give you the information without revealing the source. The next level gets into how we do what we do. Snowden had access to the first level and the second level and very limited access to the third tier and almost no access to the fourth tier. The fourth tier is really where you get down to the technical way that you access this enterprise or this particular activity.”

Mr. McConnell said Mr. Snowden’s actions were the “most damaging theft of intelligence information in our history,” and have set U.S. intelligence back decades. As CIO Journal reported Monday, those actions have created a new set of difficulties for U.S. cloud vendors abroad, and for their U.S.-based multinational customers.

A poll of CIOs in attendance gave another indication of the extent of these difficulties. More than half of the attendees,  or 54%, said they are reviewing their cloud strategy in the wake of disclosures of the NSA’s espionage program, and 6% said they are “actively looking” for secondary cloud vendors to supplement their main cloud vendors. Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president of research for Gartner Inc., tells CIO Journal  that the numbers reflect several factors, including whether a company has significant amount of business overseas.

Meanwhile, Washington Technology reports that government contractors are tigeting security in the post-Snowden world:

Washington Technology: Post-Snowden contractors tighten security: A large majority of contractors have changed their security practices in light of the Edward Snowden data breaches. A new study released by ThreatTrack Security and conducted by Opinion Matters [PDF] found that 75 percent of respondents claiming that the breaches have changed their companies’ cybersecurity practices.

Sixty-three percent of the respondents hold either secret, top secret, or confidential clearances, but out of those who have access to confidential information, 27 percent do not hold such clearances, representing a potential privileged access problem where contractor employees without these clearances might have access to sensitive government data, ThreatTrack said in a release.

More on the ThreatTrack Security study here.

The SEVEN stories that impact your life 

  1. Washington Post: House GOP may try to link debt ceiling to health-care law.  House Republicans were still struggling Tuesday to find consensus on how to handle their upcoming debt-limit negotiations with the White House, but they seem increasingly determined to avoid any kind of dramatic showdown with the president this time. 
    1. Related: For federal employees, debt ceiling approach follows familiar pat
  2. Federal News Radio: Army identifies up to $100 million in fraud in recruiting payments. “Army officials disclosed details Tuesday of a multi-year criminal investigation that tarnishes one of the military's most successful recruiting programs in recent memory.”
  3. Next Gov: Despite Spending $65 Billion on Cybersecurity, Agencies Neglect Basic Protections. “After spending at least $65 billion since 2006 to protect federal computers and networks from hackers, government agencies remain vulnerable, often because officials have neglected to perform basic security steps such as updating software, according to a report released Tuesday by a key Republican senator.”
  4. Federal News Radio: DHS prevails in the first of many EAGLE II protests. “The Homeland Security Department came out on top on the first of more than three dozen protests of the massive EAGLE II IT services contract.”
  5. The Hill: Republicans readying alternative veterans bill. “Senate Republicans are preparing an alternative to Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) massive veterans bill that would repeal the $6 billion cut to military pensions as part of a larger package.”
  6. The Hill: Democrats say struggling post office branches could dabble in banking. “Congressional Democrats are coalescing behind the idea of allowing local post offices to fill gaps in the banking business.”
  7. Government Executive: House Approves Bill to Temporarily Ban Senior Exec Bonuses at VA. “The House unanimously passed a bill Monday that would ban bonuses for senior executives at the Veterans Affairs Department for the next five years.”

Before we finish up... a few items from the DorobekINSIDER water-cooler fodder... yes, we’re trying to help you make your water-cooler time better too... 

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