SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
SECURITY OF THE
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION'S
OPERATING SYSTEMS' CONVERSIONS
We improve SSA programs and operations and protect them against fraud, waste, and abuse by conducting independent and objective audits, evaluations, and investigations. We provide timely, useful, and reliable information and advice to Administration officials, the Congress, and the public.
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relating to agency programs and operations.
Promote economy, effectiveness, and efficiency within the agency.
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Review and make recommendations regarding existing and proposed legislation and regulations relating to agency programs and operations.
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Independence to determine what reviews to perform.
Access to all information necessary for the reviews.
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By conducting independent and objective audits, investigations, and evaluations, we are agents of positive change striving for continuous improvement in the Social Security Administration's programs, operations, and management and in our own office.
Date: September 17, 2004
To: The Commissioner
From: Acting Inspector General
Subject: The Impact on Network Security of the Social Security Administration's Operating Systems' Conversions (A-14-04-24019)
Our objective was to determine if the Social Security Administration's (SSA) conversion from the Windows NT operating system increased, maintained, or decreased network security.
The network operating systems in SSA's distributed data processing environment have intrinsic security features that protect the sensitive information that the Agency processes, stores, and transmits. In converting from its Windows NT network operating system, SSA had the opportunity to maintain, diminish, or enhance network security. The effect the conversion will have on network security depends on SSA's ability to take advantage of the security features the operating systems contain.
Operating system security features work by limiting user access to system resources including data and application programs. They also identify and report on such accesses. These identification, exclusion, and reporting functions keep unauthorized individuals or groups from obtaining confidential information that they do not legitimately need. The use of these security features is affected by system security configuration settings. The availability of specific features and the configuration settings vary depending on the operating system. The security features of newer operating systems tend to be more specific in defining who has access to sensitive resources, and reporting these accesses.
We began this audit when SSA began to migrate its network environment to the
newer Windows 2000 operating system. We conducted our review to determine the
effect that changing from one operating system's security features to another
would have on overall network security.
SCOPE AND METHODOLOGY
We reviewed SSA's operating system migration to determine its effect on a number
of factors of network security. These factors included: 1) the security capabilities
of the operating systems involved; 2) the criteria used to select and set security
features; 3) the effect security-related settings would have on system operation
for the users;
4) any problems encountered by changing the operating systems; and 5) compliance with Government standards and industry best practices.
We based our determinations on interviews with staff involved with the operating system migration and on the examination of policy, practice, and available management information, as well as guidelines, standards, and best practices.
During the course of our audit, SSA expanded its operating system migration plan to include a changeover to a third, newer operating system environment using Windows 2003 and Windows XP. This expansion was initiated before the original migration from Windows NT to Windows 2000 was completed. The scope of this audit encompasses this migration as well.
We audited components within SSA's Office of Systems and Office of Operations at SSA Headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland between June 2003 and April 2004. Our audit was conducted in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.
RESULTS OF AUDIT
SSA migrated its network environment from one based on Windows NT to one based on Windows 2000. Because of strategic considerations including the problems encountered, SSA decided to migrate ahead of schedule to the next operating systems, Windows 2003/XP. With each conversion, the Agency has taken advantage of newer, improved, and more developed operating systems to increase network security. SSA network developers acknowledge, and we noted, several problems that prevented the migrations from proceeding as originally planned.
When SSA implemented Windows 2000, its security settings would not allow a number of application programs to run.
Some of the application compatibility problems experienced in the first migration are beginning to surface in the second.
In cases of problem applications, SSA does not use an established and enforceable set of standardized processes and programming language to ensure operating system security compliance and compatibility.
Integration and Environmental (IE) testing procedures, which prevent the implementation of problem applications, were not always used in the operating system migrations.
WINDOWS NT TO WINDOWS 2000 MIGRATION
Federal law and guidance require SSA to provide for the cost-effective security and privacy of sensitive information in its systems. This is to "assure that adequate security is provided for all agency information collected, processed, transmitted, stored, or disseminated in general support systems and major applications." To provide such security, the migration as originally planned used a Windows 2000 security template to enforce security at a high level. Although not mandated to do so, the Agency chose to develop its template by adapting the most secure of five available templates, the "Gold Standard Template" to the SSA network environment.
This collection of security configuration settings was very restrictive and would not allow some applications to access system resources they needed to run. Applications affected included those developed for earlier environments and carried over as "legacy" applications. These and other applications posed problems when their developers didn't ensure their compatibility with the new network environment. Some of these applications are used on a routine basis for regular Agency operations.
Developers first tried to solve the problems encountered by lowering, turning off, and/or circumventing the configuration settings of the security template so that individual applications could run. This compromised the system security. After SSA made a number of these adjustments to the security template, it decided that the template was not capable of providing the intended level of security and replaced it with one containing lower security, specifically default, configuration settings. They also started to modify applications individually so that they could eventually run under higher security settings. SSA believed that if all necessary applications were modified in this way, the system would return to a high security level. This process, however, became overly time consuming and demanding of programmer resources, and was not guaranteed to work.
After we initiated our audit, SSA abandoned this approach, settled the network environment at whatever level of security it could implement and still run the problem applications, and started to concentrate efforts on a new environment.
SSA's network systems environment currently operates as a compromise as follows:
Servers run the older Windows NT operating system to authenticate users to
Servers run Windows 2000 to manage accesses to data and applications, and
User workstations run on Windows 2000 without high security.
This compromise may provide better security than networks running solely on older operating systems, like Windows NT, but does not take advantage of the security potential that Windows 2000 or newer operating systems provide.
In the current network environment, overall network security configuration settings have to be changed to allow legacy application programs to run on newer operating systems with more stringent requirements. These changes are necessary because the programs themselves are not being changed to accommodate higher network security.
WINDOWS 2000 TO WINDOWS 2003/XP MIGRATION
In 2003, SSA began the transition to a newer network operating system environment: Windows 2003 for servers and Windows XP for workstations (Windows 2003/XP). This implementation is currently under development with different projects progressing at different rates and is subject to the same requirements for security as previously discussed. Both the server and workstation operating systems should be able to work with similar security templates and take advantage of enhanced features for providing security, including Active Directory. Such capability would lessen the risk of inappropriate access while maintaining a high level of security like that specified in Microsoft's High Security template.
It is impossible to verify at this point whether Windows 2003 and Windows XP
will be implemented to use high security templates that permit all necessary
applications to run. The environment using these operating systems is still
under development. Project plans for some components have not been drafted yet
and some are still subject to frequent changes. The planned security templates
are still being modified on a regular basis to accommodate users and applications.
Even this early in the transition, developers have found the same problems as
in the first migration. Some applications may still require security adaptations
that lower, turn off, and/or circumvent configuration settings.
STANDARD APPROACH TO APPLICATION DEVELOPMENT
SSA does not require legacy or new applications to be changed or developed to appropriately use newer security capabilities. Currently, the Office of Telecommunications and Systems Operations (OTSO) maintains and enforces a standardized process that ensures its applications are compatible with the security potential of newer operating systems. Generally, applications developed by non-headquarters components do not follow the same development process as OTSO's. There is no Agency-wide entity to ensure that standards are met. Without enforcing Agency-wide standards, some SSA applications are developed that are incapable of taking advantage of the high security configuration settings available in newer operating systems.
There is nothing to prevent new application programs that require either "work-arounds," or holes in the security templates, from being developed and installed on SSA's network structure. As a result, template adaptations may prevent the use of "high security" configuration settings available in the Agency's newer operating systems.
INTEGRATION AND ENVIRONMENTAL TESTING
IE testing is used to ensure that new software can effectively be incorporated into the current operating environment. IE testing serves to identify system incompatibilities before they are put into production. Some Agency components create network software applications that avoid IE testing and still run in the network environment. Without testing, SSA has no assurance that network applications adhere to software development guidelines established to ensure compatibility with accepted security standards.
Developers did not apply OTSO's IE testing procedures for all application programs that run under the network security structure. In some cases, non-headquarters applications did not require this testing.
In the future, SSA should use IE testing to help avoid incompatibilities when
implementing new systems and should expand its use to all applications in its
network environment. IE testing, if complete and extensive, could also have
detected the incompatibilities between Windows 2000 and legacy applications
that were discovered only on implementation. Detecting incompatibilities in
a controlled, confined testing environment, rather than in production, minimizes
the risk of exploitation or corruption of SSA's information resources.
CONCLUSIONS and RECOMMENDATIONS
SSA continues to migrate its network environment from one based on the Microsoft Windows NT operating system to one based on the newer Microsoft operating systems, Windows 2003 and Windows XP.
Each of the conversions involved, from Windows NT to Windows 2000 and from Windows 2000 to Windows 2003/XP, has increased network environment security over the level of security that preceded it. The problems the Agency encountered during these conversions, did however, prevent network security from reaching the full potential available in its newer operating systems.
We recommend SSA:
1. Require new application programs installed on SSA's network structure be developed to operate under the high security configuration settings originally intended for SSA's network environment.
2. Require, where possible, applications carried over from older operating system environments be replaced or modified when incompatible with newer, more stringent security configurations.
3. Require network applications to undergo adequate IE testing to meet security requirements under operating systems using high security configuration settings.
AGENCY COMMENTS AND OIG RESPONSE
In response to our draft report, SSA agreed with all three recommendations and plans to implement the recommended changes. SSA will continue to work to ensure that new and existing applications are tested and secured prior to implementation, and are compliant with best practices described under Microsoft's Designed for Windows XP Logo Program. SSA also plans to modify or replace applications as necessary to adopt them to newer operating systems with higher security configurations.
Patrick P. O'Carroll, Jr.
APPENDIX A - Acronyms
APPENDIX B - Agency Comments
APPENDIX C - OIG Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments
IE Integration and Environmental
OMB Office of Management and Budget
OTSO Office of Telecommunications and Systems Operations
SSA Social Security Administration
Date: September 3, 2004
To: Patrick P. O'Carroll, Jr.
Acting Inspector General
From: Larry W. Dye
Chief of Staff
Subject: Office of the Inspector General (OIG) Draft Report, "The Impact on Network Security of the Social Security Administration's Operating Systems' Conversions" (A-14-04-24019)-INFORMATION
We appreciate OIG's efforts in conducting this review. Our comments on the draft report are attached.
If you have any questions, you may contact Candace Skurnik, Director of the Audit Management and Liaison Staff, at extension 54636.
COMMENTS ON THE OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GENERAL'S (OIG) DRAFT REPORT, "THE IMPACT ON NETWORK SECURITY OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION'S OPERATING SYSTEMS' CONVERSIONS" (A-14-04-24019)
Thank you for the opportunity to review and provide comments on this report. The Social Security Administration (SSA) continues to maintain a secure information systems environment as we convert to use newer operating systems with more stringent security configurations. Our commitment to achieving maximum security in this area is evidenced by our decision, made in the absence of relevant Government standards, to develop our security template by adapting the most secure available template (the "Gold Standard Template") to the SSA network environment.
Require that new application programs installed on SSA's network structure be developed to operate under the high security configuration settings originally intended for SSA's network environment.
We agree. New applications are required to meet high security standards set by the Agency. Specifically, we require that newly developed applications be developed using the best practices described under Microsoft's Designed for Windows XP Logo Program, and that appropriate testing be performed to ensure new applications are compliant.
Require that, where possible, applications carried over from older operating system environments be replaced or modified when incompatible with newer, more stringent security configurations.
We agree. We will make modifications to or replace applications as necessary to maintain a high security environment when using such applications with newer operating systems with higher security configurations. When making decisions about modifying or replacing existing applications, we will balance the risks, costs, and benefits, as well as consider the remaining system life of such applications.
Require network applications to undergo adequate Integration and Environmental (IE) testing to meet security requirements under operating systems using high security configuration settings.
We agree. SSA system application developers are required to follow an application development process which includes IE testing. We continue to work aggressively to ensure all applications are appropriately tested and secured prior to implementation, irrespective of the network environment on which they are intended to be used.
OIG Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments
Kitt Winter, Director, Data Analysis and Technical Audit Division (410) 965-9702
Patrick Kennedy, Audit Manager, Mainframe Controls and Advanced Techniques (410) 965-9724
In addition to those named above:
Gregory P. Hungerman, Senior Auditor
Annette DeRito, Writer/Editor
For additional copies of this report, please visit our web site at www.ssa.gov/oig or contact the Office of the Inspector General's Public Affairs Specialist at (410) 965-3218. Refer to Common Identification Number A-14-04-24019.
Overview of the Office of the Inspector General
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is comprised of our Office of Investigations (OI), Office of Audit (OA), Office of the Chief Counsel to the Inspector General (OCCIG), and Office of Executive Operations (OEO). To ensure compliance with policies and procedures, internal controls, and professional standards, we also have a comprehensive Professional Responsibility and Quality Assurance program.
Office of Audit
OA conducts and/or supervises financial and performance audits of the Social Security Administration's (SSA) programs and operations and makes recommendations to ensure program objectives are achieved effectively and efficiently. Financial audits assess whether SSA's financial statements fairly present SSA's financial position, results of operations, and cash flow. Performance audits review the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of SSA's programs and operations. OA also conducts short-term management and program evaluations and projects on issues of concern to SSA, Congress, and the general public.
Office of Investigations
OI conducts and coordinates investigative activity related to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement in SSA programs and operations. This includes wrongdoing by applicants, beneficiaries, contractors, third parties, or SSA employees performing their official duties. This office serves as OIG liaison to the Department of Justice on all matters relating to the investigations of SSA programs and personnel. OI also conducts joint investigations with other Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies.
Office of the Chief Counsel to the Inspector General
OCCIG provides independent legal advice and counsel to the IG on various matters, including statutes, regulations, legislation, and policy directives. OCCIG also advises the IG on investigative procedures and techniques, as well as on legal implications and conclusions to be drawn from audit and investigative material. Finally, OCCIG administers the Civil Monetary Penalty program.
Office of Executive Operations
OEO supports OIG by providing information resource management and systems security. OEO also coordinates OIG's budget, procurement, telecommunications, facilities, and human resources. In addition, OEO is the focal point for OIG's strategic planning function and the development and implementation of performance measures required by the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993.