The DEFCON Warning System™

Ongoing GeoIntel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.  DEFCON Level assessment issued for public notification.  Established 1984.

Energy Dept. Has Thousands of ‘Critical’ Cyber Security Gaps, Auditors Say

Their review, which included locations operated by the National Nuclear Security Administration, revealed multiple cybersecurity weaknesses recurring year after year.

The Energy Department continues to botch the same cybersecurity practices year after year, leaving unclassified systems in the nation’s nuclear facilities and other critical infrastructure exposed to digital attacks, according to a federal watchdog.

In general, the agency is capable of fixing vulnerabilities after they’re uncovered, but officials have struggled to put in place policies to ensure they aren’t repeating the same mistakes, the Energy inspector general said. In their annual audit of the department’s cybersecurity program, investigators uncovered multiple recurring weaknesses related to configuration management, access controls, personnel training programs and security testing. 

The audit also revealed substantial shortcomings in the department’s vulnerability management practices, which left tens of thousands of “critical and high-risk vulnerabilities” unaddressed within its digital ecosystem.

“Without improvements to address the weaknesses identified during our evaluation, the department information systems and data may be at a higher-than-necessary risk of compromise, loss and/or modification,” auditors said in the report. “We and other independent reviewers continue to identify vulnerabilities related to developing, updating and/or implementing policies and procedures that may adversely affect the department’s ability to properly secure its information systems and data.”

The department had addressed 21 of the 25 recommendations made in 2018. But dozens of additional vulnerabilities popped up this year, the majority of which “were similar in type to those identified during prior evaluations,” the IG said. The review included 28 department facilities, including locations operated by the National Nuclear Security Administration, which maintains the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile.

In many cases, auditors found the security gaps stemmed from Energy officials failing to fully develop and implement required cybersecurity policies. In others, officials had enacted policies and procedures, but never tested their effectiveness, the IG said.

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The DEFCON Warning System is a private intelligence organization which has monitored and assessed nuclear threats by national entities since 1984. It is not affiliated with any government agency and does not represent the alert status of any military branch. The public should make their own evaluations and not rely on the DEFCON Warning System for any strategic planning. At all times, citizens are urged to learn what steps to take in the event of a nuclear attack.