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Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration

Press Release

October 31, 2011
TIGTA - 2011-74
Contact: Karen Kraushaar
(202) 622-6500

TIGTA: IRS Needs To Improve Security Over Wireless Technology

WASHINGTON – As the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) expands its use of wireless technology, it needs to improve its oversight of the protection of IRS computer systems and taxpayer data, according to a report released today by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).

The IRS currently uses a wireless local area network (WLAN) at its National Distribution Center in Bloomington, Indiana, and allows some employees to use wireless technology to connect to the IRS network from remote locations.

TIGTA reviewed whether the IRS has implemented effective controls to detect the unauthorized use of wireless technology and reviewed its plans for increasing use of WLAN technology. TIGTA found that the IRS: established a wireless security policy that was generally in compliance with Federal standards; deployed continuous monitoring procedures for detecting rogue wireless access points and other computing devices; and used a virtual private network (VPN) to facilitate the secure transfer of sensitive data during remote access using wireless technology.

However, TIGTA also found that some IRS employees were using personal unauthorized wireless devices on their laptops to connect to the IRS network. Although these employees were authorized to access the network, the use of personal wireless devices is prohibited. Further, the IRS developed software to enable laptops to wirelessly connect to the IRS network from non-IRS facilities (home, airport, or hotel) and allowed its use by approximately 300 users before the software was properly tested and approved for use enterprise-wide.

“While wireless communications can allow IRS employees to operate more efficiently, protecting the security of taxpayer data must always be the top priority,” said J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

TIGTA recommended that the IRS: 1) implement automated nationwide network scans for unauthorized wireless activity, devices, and software; 2) ensure that a security assessment and authorization is completed for all wireless technologies prior to use in the IRS environment; and 3) resume monitoring of the WLAN at the National Distribution Center at appropriate intervals to ensure all files are set in accordance with IRS security policy.

The IRS agreed to take corrective actions to address two of TIGTA’s recommendations, but disagreed that IRS policy requires completion of a security assessment and authorization on wireless technologies that it is piloting or demonstrating. TIGTA maintains that prior to placing wireless technologies on the live IRS network, the IRS should ensure that it has completed the required security assessment and authorization.

Read the report.


Note: The difference between the date TIGTA issues an audit report to the Internal Revenue Service and the date TIGTA publicly releases the report is due to TIGTA’s internal review process to ensure that public release is in compliance with Federal confidentiality laws.

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