Security incident turns into a flap

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By Roger Snodgrass

The subject of cyber security resurfaced in Los Alamos, after Los Alamos National Laboratory began looking into the circumstances surrounding three computers stolen from a Santa Fe home last month.


A letter from the manager of the Los Alamos Site Office came to light Wednesday, suggesting that the laboratory and its federal overseers have not been taking the matter seriously enough.


“In treating this initially as only a property management issue, my staff and I, and apparently the cyber security elements of the laboratory, were not engaged in a timely and proactive manner to assess and address potential loss of information,” wrote the Los Alamos Site Office Manager Don Winchell in a letter to Michael Anastasio.


The letter was dated Feb. 3 and was made available by POGO, the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington, D.C., watchdog group.


In the letter Winchell said that the LANL follow-up investigation had revealed a number of “emergent issues,” starting with the initial laboratory reports that “used vague terminology and made assertions that suggested significant weaknesses in individual controls, organizational management approval, accountability systems, configuration management, etc.”


Additionally, according to the letter, LANL has reported that 13 computers have been stolen or lost in the past 12 months and that 67 computers are currently “missing.”


“The magnitude of exposure and risk to the laboratory is at best unclear as little data on these losses has been collected or pursued given their treatment as property management issues as well,” Winchell continued, calling for the formal resolution of the status and potential cyber security ramifications of each of the 80 lost or missing computer systems by the end of last week.


“First and foremost, there was absolutely no classified information involved,” said Kevin Roark, a laboratory spokesperson Wednesday. “We have a regular quarterly reporting system for letting the fed government know when there is an issue related to missing government property of all kinds.”


He said the equipment was all bar-coded and was not only laptops and desktop computers, but monitors, scanners, hard drives and thumb drives.


Roark said the report requested by Winchell had determined that out of the 80 computers missing or stolen, “about a dozen” had been recovered so far.


At the National Nuclear Security Administration’s local area office, spokesman Don Ami confirmed that Winchell had received the lab director’s report.


“There is no update to provide about whether it was appropriate or adequate to cover the concerns that were raised in the letter,” Ami said.


Shortly after the theft of the three computers was reported in the Monitor on Jan. 22, an e-mail distributed in the Threat Reduction division and also obtained by POGO, noted the loss of a BlackBerry in a sensitive foreign country.


“This is garnering a great deal of attention with senior management as well as NNSA representatives,” the message said.


On Friday, LANL management issued a total recall of all offsite computers, saying they needed “to physically touch” all such equipment and then reauthorize its use before taking it offsite again. Among concerns expressed were that some computers might contain unclassified information that might be sensitive or personal.


In an announcement Wednesday, the laboratory clarified previous information about the three computers stolen in Santa Fe, when a spokesperson said, “We’ve confirmed that the employee followed all lab policies for having unclassified government computer equipment in the home for official use.”


The information was restated, “As it turns out, only one of those was authorized for home use and so it raised concerns as to whether we were fully complying with our own policies for offsite computer usage.”