FAS | Intelligence | GAO Reports |||| Index | Search | Join FAS


Air Traffic Control: Weak Computer Security Practices Jeopardize Flight Safety (Letter Report, 05/18/98, GAO/AIMD-98-155).


Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Aviation
Administration's (FAA) computer security practices focusing on: (1)
whether FAA is effectively managing physical security at air traffic
control (ATC) facilities and systems security for its current
operational systems; (2) whether FAA is effectively managing systems
security for future ATC modernization systems; and (3) the effectiveness
of FAA's management structure and implementation of policy for computer
security.

GAO noted that: (1) FAA is ineffective in all critical areas included in
GAO's computer security review--facilities physical security,
operational systems information security, future systems modernization
security, and management structure and policy implementation; (2) in the
physical security area, known weaknesses exist at many ATC facilities;
(3) FAA is similarly ineffective in managing systems security for its
operational systems and is in violation of its own policy; (4) an
October 1996 information systems security assessment concluded that FAA
had performed the necessary analysis to determine system threats,
vulnerabilities, and safeguards for only 3 of 90 operational ATC
computer systems, or less than 4 percent; (5) FAA officials told GAO
that this assessment is an accurate depiction of the current state of
operational systems security; (6) according to the team that maintains
FAA's telecommunications networks, only one of the nine operational ATC
telecommunications networks has been analyzed; (7) without knowing the
specific vulnerabilities of its ATC systems, FAA cannot adequately
protect them; (8) FAA is also not effectively managing systems security
for future ATC modernization systems; (9) it does not consistently
include well formulated security requirements in specifications for all
new ATC modernization systems, as required by FAA policy; (10) it does
not have a well-defined security architecture, a concept of operations,
or security standards all of which are needed to define and ensure
adequate security throughout the ATC network; (11) FAA's management
structure and implementation of policy for ATC computer security is not
effective; (12) security responsibilities are distributed among three
organizations, all of which have been remiss in their ATC security
duties; (13) the Office of Civil Aviation Security is responsible for
developing and enforcing security policy, the Office of Air Traffic
Services is responsible for implementing security policy for operational
ATC systems, and the Office of Research and Acquisitions is responsible
for implementing policy for ATC systems that are being developed; (14)
the Office of Civil Aviation Security has not adequately enforced FAA's
policies that require the assessment of physical security controls at
all ATC facilities and vulnerabilities, threats, and safeguards for all
operational ATC computer systems; and (15) the Office of Research and
Acquisitions has not implemented the FAA policy that requires it to
formulate requirements for security in specifications for all new ATC
modernization systems.

--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------

 REPORTNUM:  AIMD-98-155
     TITLE:  Air Traffic Control: Weak Computer Security Practices 
             Jeopardize Flight Safety
      DATE:  05/18/98
   SUBJECT:  Computer security
             Air traffic control systems
             Transportation safety
             Systems conversions
             Internal controls
             Facility security
             Information resources management
             Aviation

             
******************************************************************
** This file contains an ASCII representation of the text of a  **
** GAO report.  Delineations within the text indicating chapter **
** titles, headings, and bullets are preserved.  Major          **
** divisions and subdivisions of the text, such as Chapters,    **
** Sections, and Appendixes, are identified by double and       **
** single lines.  The numbers on the right end of these lines   **
** indicate the position of each of the subsections in the      **
** document outline.  These numbers do NOT correspond with the  **
** page numbers of the printed product.                         **
**                                                              **
** No attempt has been made to display graphic images, although **
** figure captions are reproduced.  Tables are included, but    **
** may not resemble those in the printed version.               **
**                                                              **
** Please see the PDF (Portable Document Format) file, when     **
** available, for a complete electronic file of the printed     **
** document's contents.                                         **
**                                                              **
** A printed copy of this report may be obtained from the GAO   **
** Document Distribution Center.  For further details, please   **
** send an e-mail message to:                                   **
**                                                              **
**                    <[email protected]>                        **
**                                                              **
** with the message 'info' in the body.                         **
******************************************************************


Cover
================================================================ COVER


Report to the Committee on Governmental Affairs, U.S.  Senate

May 1998

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL - WEAK
COMPUTER SECURITY PRACTICES
JEOPARDIZE FLIGHT SAFETY

GAO/AIMD-98-155

Air Traffic Control

(511459)


Abbreviations
=============================================================== ABBREV

  ATC -
  CIO -
  DAA -
  FAA -
  FIR -
  FMFIA -
  IPT -
  NAS -
  NIS -
  NIST -
  OMB -
  PCCIP -
  TRACON -

Letter
=============================================================== LETTER


B-276735

May 18, 1998

The Honorable Fred Thompson
Chairman
The Honorable John Glenn
Ranking Minority Member
Committee on Governmental Affairs
United States Senate

Security at our nation's airports has received great attention in
recent years due to several commercial aircraft explosions; however,
securing our nation's airports alone does not ensure safe air travel. 
It is also critical to secure the Federal Aviation Administration's
(FAA) air traffic control (ATC) computer systems that provide
information to air traffic controllers and aircraft flight crews to
ensure safe and expeditious movement of aircraft.  Failure to
adequately protect these systems, as well as the facilities that
house them, could cause nationwide disruption of air traffic or even
loss of life due to collisions.  Since malicious attacks on computer
systems are an increasing threat, it is essential that FAA ensure the
integrity and availability of ATC information and protect it from
unauthorized users. 

Given the paramount importance of computer security of ATC systems,
you asked us to determine (1) whether FAA is effectively managing
physical security at ATC facilities and systems security for its
current operational systems, (2) whether FAA is effectively managing
systems security for future ATC modernization systems, and (3) the
effectiveness of FAA's management structure and implementation of
policy for computer security.  We issued a "Limited Official Use"
report to you detailing the results of our review on April 29, 1998. 
This unclassified version of that report summarizes the weaknesses we
found in FAA's ATC computer security program and our recommendations
for corrective actions. 


   RESULTS IN BRIEF
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :1

FAA is ineffective in all critical areas included in our computer
security review--facilities physical security, operational systems
information security, future systems modernization security, and
management structure and policy implementation. 

In the physical security area, known weaknesses exist at many ATC
facilities.  For example, a March 1997 inspection of a facility that
controls aircraft disclosed 13 physical security weaknesses,
including unauthorized personnel being granted unescorted access to
restricted areas.  FAA is unaware of weaknesses that may exist at
other locations.  For example, FAA has not assessed the physical
security controls at 187 facilities since 1993 and therefore does not
know how vulnerable they are. 

Second, FAA is similarly ineffective in managing systems security for
its operational systems and is in violation of its own policy.  An
October 1996 information systems security assessment concluded that
FAA had performed the necessary analysis to determine system threats,
vulnerabilities, and safeguards for only 3 of 90 operational ATC
computer systems, or less than 4 percent.  FAA officials told us that
this assessment is an accurate depiction of the current state of
operational systems security.  Further, according to the team that
maintains FAA's telecommunications networks, only one of the nine
operational ATC telecommunications networks has been analyzed. 
Without knowing the specific vulnerabilities of its ATC systems, FAA
cannot adequately protect them. 

Third, FAA is also not effectively managing systems security for
future ATC modernization systems.  It does not consistently include
well formulated security requirements in specifications for all new
ATC modernization systems, as required by FAA policy.  Further, it
does not have a well-defined security architecture, a concept of
operations, or security standards all of which are needed to define
and ensure adequate security throughout the ATC network. 

Finally, FAA's management structure and implementation of policy for
ATC computer security is not effective.  Security responsibilities
are distributed among three organizations, all of which have been
remiss in their ATC security duties.  The Office of Civil Aviation
Security is responsible for developing and enforcing security policy,
the Office of Air Traffic Services is responsible for implementing
security policy for operational ATC systems, and the Office of
Research and Acquisitions is responsible for implementing policy for
ATC systems that are being developed.  The Office of Civil Aviation
Security has not adequately enforced FAA policies that require the
assessment of physical security controls at all ATC facilities and
vulnerabilities, threats, and safeguards for all operational ATC
computer systems.  In addition, the Office of Air Traffic Services
has not implemented FAA policies that require it to analyze all ATC
systems for security vulnerabilities, threats, and safeguards. 
Finally, the Office of Research and Acquisitions has not implemented
the FAA policy that requires it to formulate requirements for
security in specifications for all new ATC modernization systems. 


   BACKGROUND
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :2

FAA's ATC network is an enormous, complex collection of interrelated
systems, including navigation, surveillance, weather, and automated
information processing and display systems that reside at, or are
associated with, hundreds of ATC facilities.  These systems and
facilities are interconnected by complex communications networks that
separately transmit both voice and digital data.  As stated in our
1997 report on high-risk issues,\1 while the use of interconnected
systems promises significant benefits in improved government
operations, it also increases vulnerability to anonymous intruders
who may manipulate data to commit fraud, obtain sensitive
information, or severely disrupt operations.  Since this
interconnectivity is expected to grow as systems are modernized to
meet the projected increases in air traffic and to replace aging
equipment, the ATC network will become even more vulnerable to such
network-related threats. 

The threat to information systems is also growing because of the
increasing availability of strategies and tools for launching planned
attacks.  For example, in May 1996 we reported that tests at the
Department of Defense showed that Defense systems may have
experienced as many as 250,000 attacks during 1995, about 65 percent
of these succeeded in gaining access, and only about 4 percent were
detected.\2

Since intruders can use a variety of techniques to attack computer
systems, it is essential that FAA's approach to computer security be
comprehensive and include (1) physical security of the facilities
that house ATC systems (e.g., locks, guards, fences, and surveillance
equipment), (2) information security of the ATC systems (e.g.,
safeguards incorporated into computer hardware and software), and (3)
telecommunications security of the networks linking ATC systems and
facilities (e.g., secure gateways, firewalls, and communication port
protection devices). 

For years, the need for federal agencies to protect sensitive and
critical, but unclassified, federal data has been recognized in
various laws, including the Privacy Act of 1974, the Computer
Security Act of 1987, and the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, and
was recently reemphasized in the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996.  The
adequacy of controls over computerized data is also addressed
indirectly by the Federal Managers' Financial Integrity Act (FMFIA)
of 1982 and the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990.  For example,
FMFIA requires agency managers to evaluate their internal control
systems annually and report to the President and the Congress any
material weaknesses that could lead to fraud, waste, and abuse in
government operations.  In addition, a considerable body of federal
guidance on information security has been developed by both the
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the National Institute of
Standards and Technology (NIST). 


--------------------
\1 High-Risk Series:  Information Management and Technology
(GAO/HR-97-09, Feb.  1997). 

\2 Information Security:  Computer Attacks at Department of Defense
Pose Increasing Risks (GAO/AIMD-96-84, May 22, 1996). 


   OBJECTIVES, SCOPE, AND
   METHODOLOGY
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :3

The objectives of our review were to determine (1) whether FAA is
effectively managing physical security at ATC facilities and systems
security for its current operational systems, (2) whether FAA is
effectively managing systems security for future ATC modernization
systems, and (3) the effectiveness of FAA's management structure and
implementation of policy for computer security. 

To determine whether FAA is effectively managing physical security at
ATC facilities, we

  -- reviewed FAA Order 1600.6C, Physical Security Management
     Program, to determine ATC facility security inspection and
     accreditation requirements;

  -- reviewed data from FAA's Facility Inspection Reporting System
     (FIRS) to determine the accreditation status of category I and
     II towers, terminal radar approach control (TRACON) facilities,
     and air route traffic control towers (en route centers) and
     their last inspection date;\3

  -- verified the accuracy of the FIRS accreditation data with each
     of the nine regional FIRS program managers by requesting
     accreditation reports for each facility that FIRS reported as
     being accredited;

  -- for those facilities that were not accredited, requested dates
     of their initial comprehensive physical security inspection\4
     and follow-up inspections from each of the nine regional FIRS
     program managers to determine why ATC facilities were not
     accredited;

  -- verified the initial and follow-up inspection dates by
     requesting and reviewing documentation for each inspection
     conducted from April 16, 1993, to July 31, 1997, and then
     provided our analyses to Office of Civil Aviation Security
     Operations officials, who in turn verified it with each region;

  -- reviewed the Department of Justice's June 28, 1995, report,
     Vulnerability Assessment of Federal Facilities, to identify new
     physical security requirements for federal facilities;

  -- reviewed physical security assessments for three locations to
     determine FAA's ATC compliance with Department of Justice blast
     standards and to identify additional physical security
     weaknesses at key ATC facilities;

  -- reviewed the Facility Security Risk Management Mission Need
     Statement for Staffed Facilities, Number 316, June 23, 1997, to
     determine physical security deficiencies and FAA's plans to
     improve physical security; and

  -- interviewed officials from the Offices of Civil Aviation
     Security, Operations and Policy and Planning, and Airways
     Facility Services to determine physical security requirements,
     to determine whether FAA is in compliance with 1600.6C, to
     identify reasons for noncompliance, and to identify who
     develops, implements, and enforces ATC physical security policy. 

To determine whether FAA is effectively managing systems security for
its current operational systems, we

  -- reviewed federal computer security requirements specified in the
     Computer Security Act of 1987 (Public Law 100-235); Paperwork
     Reduction Act of 1995 (Public Law 104-13), as amended; OMB
     Circular A-130, appendix III, "Security of Federal Automated
     Information Resources;" the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act; and An
     Introduction to Computer Security:  The NIST Handbook to
     identify federal security requirements;

  -- reviewed FAA Order 1600.54B, FAA Automated Information Systems
     Security Handbook, and FAA Order 1600.66, Telecommunications and
     Information Systems Security Policy, to determine ATC system
     risk assessment, certification, and accreditation requirements;

  -- reviewed Volpe National Transportation Systems Center NAS AIS
     Security Review, October 1, 1996, to determine how many ATC
     operational systems were assessed, certified, and accredited as
     of October 1, 1996;

  -- requested and reviewed accreditation reports, security
     certification reports, risk assessments, contingency plans, and
     disaster recovery plans for six operational ATC systems;\5

  -- reviewed the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and
     Security's final report to the President, February 12, 1997, to
     determine recommendations to improve ATC computer security;

  -- reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration Air to Ground
     Communications Vulnerabilities Assessment, June 1993, to
     determine ATC communication systems vulnerabilities;

  -- reviewed the Report to Congress, Air Traffic Control Data and
     Communications Vulnerabilities and Security, Report of the
     Federal Aviation Administration Pursuant to House-Senate Report
     Accompanying the Department of Transportation and Related
     Agencies Appropriations Act, 102-639, June 1, 1993, to determine
     what ATC security vulnerabilities FAA disclosed to the Congress
     in 1993;

  -- interviewed the telecommunications integrated product team to
     determine what operational communication systems have been
     assessed, certified, and accredited and reviewed the team's 1994
     and 1997 strategic plans to determine communication system risks
     and planned security improvement initiatives;

  -- interviewed the Director of Spectrum Policy and Management to
     determine the extent to which intruders are accessing ATC
     frequencies;

  -- interviewed FAA's Designated Approving Authority (DAA) to
     determine FAA's policy for accrediting ATC systems; and

  -- interviewed the Office of Civil Aviation Security Operations
     officials and Airways Facilities Services officials to determine
     who develops, implements, and enforces ATC operational systems
     security policy and to determine whether an incident reporting
     and handling capability exists. 

To determine whether FAA is effectively managing systems security for
future ATC modernization systems, we

  -- requested and reviewed risk assessments and acquisition
     specifications for six ATC systems that are being developed to
     determine if security requirements based on detailed assessments
     existed;\6

  -- interviewed three integrated product teams (IPT) to determine
     what security policy/guidance each follows in developing ATC
     systems;

  -- reviewed the NAS Information Security Mission Need Statement,
     April 22, 1997, to determine information security deficiencies,
     future system vulnerabilities, and FAA's plans to improve
     information security;

  -- interviewed the NAS Information Security (NIS) group to
     determine its plans to improve ATC information security and
     reviewed its NAS Information Security Action Plan; and

  -- reviewed the President's Commission of Critical Infrastructure
     Protection's (PCCIP) final report, Critical Foundations,
     Protecting America's Infrastructures, October 1997, and its
     supplemental report, Vulnerability Assessment of the FAA
     National Airspace Systems (NAS) Architecture, October 1997, to
     determine future ATC systems security vulnerabilities. 

To determine the effectiveness of FAA's management structure and
implementation of policy for computer security, we

  -- reviewed FAA Order 1600.6C, Physical Security Management Program
     (dated April 1993), Order 1600.54B, FAA Automated Information
     Systems Security Handbook (dated February 1989), and Order
     1600.66, Telecommunications and Information Systems Security
     Policy (dated July 1994), to determine what organizations are
     assigned responsibility for developing, implementing, and
     enforcing ATC computer security policy\7 and

  -- interviewed officials from the Offices of Civil Aviation
     Security, Air Traffic Services, and Research and Acquisitions to
     determine what organizations are responsible for developing,
     implementing, and enforcing ATC computer security policy. 

In addition, we interviewed the Associate Administrators for Civil
Aviation Security and for Research and Acquisitions and the Director
of Airway Facilities under the Associate Administrator for Air
Traffic Services to determine why ATC computer security policies have
not been adequately implemented and enforced. 

We performed our work at FAA headquarters in Washington, D.C., from
April 1997 through January 1998 in accordance with generally accepted
government auditing standards. 


--------------------
\3 Category I facilities are those that are critical to national
security and the National Airspace System (NAS).  Category II
facilities are other FAA-staffed facilities.  We did not review
security measures at airports. 

\4 FAA calls this initial physical security inspection an initial
physical security survey, and it includes an evaluation of the local
threat, physical security controls, security documentation, and
required corrective actions. 

\5 The six operational ATC systems we selected were not intended to
be a representative sample.  However, each is critical to controlling
aircraft, and collectively they represent systems from different
environments in which aircraft are controlled. 

\6 The six ATC systems currently being developed that we selected
were not intended to be a representative sample.  However, each will
be critical to controlling aircraft in the future, and collectively
they represent systems from different environments in which aircraft
are controlled. 

\7 We did not conduct a complete assessment of Orders 1600.6C,
1600.54B, or 1600.66 since two of these orders were undergoing major
revisions at the time of our review. 


   ATC PHYSICAL SECURITY
   MANAGEMENT AND CONTROLS ARE
   INEFFECTIVE
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :4

ATC systems used to control aircraft reside at, or are associated
with, a variety of ATC facilities including towers, TRACONs, and en
route centers.  FAA policy, dated April 1993, required that these
facilities be inspected by April 1995 and that annual or triennial
follow-up inspections be conducted depending on the type of facility
to determine the status of physical security at each facility.  These
inspections determine whether the facility meets the physical
security standards established in FAA policy and are the basis for
accrediting ATC facilities (i.e., concluding that they are secure). 

FAA is not effectively managing physical security at ATC facilities. 
Known physical security weaknesses exist at many ATC facilities.  For
example, an inspection of a facility that controls aircraft disclosed
26 physical security findings including (1) fire protection systems
that failed to meet minimum detection and suppression standards and
(2) service contract employees that were given unrestricted access to
sensitive areas without having appropriate background investigations. 
FAA recently confirmed its physical security weaknesses when it
performed detailed assessments of several key ATC facilities
following the Oklahoma City bombing to determine physical security
risks and the associated security measures and costs required to
reduce these risks to an acceptable level.\8 For example, an
assessment of a facility that controls aircraft concluded that access
control procedures are weak to nonexistent and that the center is
extremely vulnerable to criminal and terrorist attack. 

In addition, FAA is unaware of physical security weaknesses that may
exist at other FAA facilities.  For example, FAA has not assessed the
physical security controls at 187 facilities since 1993 and therefore
does not know how vulnerable they are.  Until FAA inspects its
remaining facilities, it does not know if they are secure and if the
appropriate controls are in place to prevent loss or damage to FAA
property, injury to FAA employees, or compromise of FAA's capability
to perform critical air safety functions. 


--------------------
\8 A key part of these assessments was to conduct a blast analysis of
FAA facilities. 


   ATC OPERATIONAL SYSTEM SECURITY
   IS INEFFECTIVE AND SYSTEMS ARE
   VULNERABLE
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :5

FAA policy requires that all ATC systems be certified and
accredited.\9 A risk assessment, which identifies and evaluates
vulnerabilities, is a key requirement for certification and
accreditation.  We recently reported that leading information
security organizations use risk assessments to identify and manage
security risks confronting their organizations.\10

FAA has not assessed, certified, or accredited most operational ATC
systems.  A review conducted for FAA's Office of Civil Aviation
Security in October 1996 concluded that FAA had not conducted risk
assessments on 83 of 90, or over 90 percent, of all operational ATC
systems.  FAA officials told us that this assessment is an accurate
depiction of the agency's knowledge regarding operational systems
security.  As a result, FAA does not know how vulnerable these
operational ATC systems are and consequently has no basis for
determining what protective measures are required.  Further, the
review concluded that of the 7 systems assessed, only 3 resulted in
certifications because 4 systems did not have the proper
certification documentation.\11

Accordingly, less than 4 percent of the 90 operational systems are
certified.  In addition, FAA has not assessed most ATC
telecommunication systems.  For example, FAA's officials responsible
for maintaining the nine FAA-owned and leased communication networks
told us that only one has been assessed.  Such poor security
management exists despite the fact that FAA's 1994 Telecommunications
Strategic Plan stated that "vulnerabilities that can be exploited in
aeronautical telecommunications potentially threaten property and
public safety." FAA's 1997 Telecommunications Strategic Plan
continues to identify security of telecommunication systems as an
area in need of improvement. 

Office of Civil Aviation Security officials told us that they were
not aware of a single ATC system that was accredited.  We found
similar results when we reviewed six operational systems to determine
if they were assessed, certified, or accredited.  Risk assessments
had been conducted and certification reports written for only two of
the systems, while none of the systems had been accredited.  The
Associate Administrator for Civil Aviation Security, who is
responsible for accrediting systems, told us that FAA has decided to
spend its limited funds not on securing currently operating systems,
but rather on developing new systems and that FAA management is
reluctant to acknowledge information security threats. 

FAA claims that because current ATC systems often utilize
custom-built, 20-year-old equipment with special purpose operating
systems, proprietary communication interfaces, and custom-built
software, the possibilities for unauthorized access are limited. 
While these configurations may not be commonly understood by external
hackers, one cannot conclude that old or obscure systems are, a
priori, secure.  In addition, the certification reports that FAA has
done reveal operational systems vulnerabilities.  Furthermore,
archaic and proprietary features of the ATC system provide no
protection from attack by disgruntled current and former employees
who understand them. 


--------------------
\9 System certification is the technical evaluation that is conducted
to verify that FAA systems comply with FAA security requirements,
identify security deficiencies, specify remedies, and justify
exceptions.  Certification results are one factor management
considers in deciding whether to accredit systems.  Accreditation is
the formal declaration from management that the appropriate security
safeguards have been properly implemented and that residual risk is
acceptable. 

\10 Executive Guide:  Information Security Management -- Learning
From Leading Organizations (Exposure Draft) (GAO/AIMD-98-21, Nov. 
1997). 

\11 The documentation did not exist or was not signed by appropriate
authorities. 


   FAA IS NOT EFFECTIVELY MANAGING
   SECURITY FOR NEW ATC SYSTEMS
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :6

Essential computer security measures can be provided most effectively
and cost efficiently if they are addressed during systems design. 
Retrofitting security features into an operational system is far more
expensive and often less effective.  Sound overall security guidance,
including a security architecture, security concept of operations,
and security standards, is needed to ensure that well formulated
security requirements are included in specifications for all new ATC
systems. 

FAA has no security architecture, security concept of operations, or
security standards.  As a result, implementation of security
requirements across ATC development efforts is sporadic and ad hoc. 
Of the six current ATC system development efforts that we reviewed,
four had security requirements, but only two of the four developed
their security requirements based on a risk assessment.  Without
security requirements based on sound risk assessments, FAA lacks
assurance that future ATC systems will be protected from attack. 
Further, with no security requirements specified during systems
design, any attempts to retrofit security features later will be
increasingly costly and technically challenging.  An FAA June 1993
report to the Congress on information security states that because
FAA lacks a security architecture to guide the development of ATC
security measures, technical security requirements will be
retrofitted or not implemented at all because the retrofit "could be
so costly or technically complex that it would not be feasible."\12

In April 1996, the Associate Administrator for Research and
Acquisitions established the National Airspace Systems (NAS)
Information Security (NIS) group to develop, along with other
security initiatives, the requisite security architecture, security
concept of operations, and security standards.  The NIS group has
developed a mission need statement that asserts that "information
security is the FAA mission area with the greatest need for policy,
procedural, and technical improvement.  Immediate action is called
for, to develop and integrate information security into ATC systems
throughout their life cycles." FAA has estimated that it will cost
about $183 million to improve ATC information security.  The NIS
group has developed an action plan that describes each of its
proposed improvement activities.  However, over 2 years later it has
not developed detailed plans or schedules to accomplish these tasks. 

As FAA modernizes and increases system interconnectivity, ATC systems
will become more vulnerable, placing even more importance on FAA's
ability to develop adequate security measures.  These future
vulnerabilities are well documented in FAA's information security
mission need statement and also in reports completed by the
President's Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection.\13 The
President's Commission summary report concluded that the future ATC
architecture appears to have vulnerabilities and recommended that FAA
act immediately to develop, establish, fund, and implement a
comprehensive systems security program to protect the modernized ATC
system from information-based and other disruptions, intrusions, and
attacks.  It further recommended that this program be guided by the
detailed recommendations made in the NAS vulnerability assessment. 


--------------------
\12 Report to Congress, Air Traffic Control Data and Communications
Vulnerabilities and Security, Report of the Federal Aviation
Administration Pursuant to House-Senate Report Accompanying the
Department of Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations Act,
102-639, June 1, 1993. 

\13 The President's Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection
(PCCIP) was established in July 1996, in Executive Order 13010, to
assess the scope and nature of the vulnerabilities of, and threats
to, critical infrastructures, including telecommunications,
electrical power systems, gas and oil storage and transportation,
banking and finance, transportation, water supply systems, emergency
services, and continuity of government.  As a supplement to the
transportation assessment, the PCCIP conducted a vulnerability
assessment of the NAS architecture. 


   FAA'S MANAGEMENT STRUCTURE IS
   NOT EFFECTIVELY IMPLEMENTING
   AND ENFORCING COMPUTER SECURITY
   POLICY
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :7

FAA's management structure and implementation of policy for computer
security has been ineffective:  the Office of Civil Aviation Security
has not adequately enforced the security policies it has formulated;
the Office of Air Traffic Services has not adequately implemented
security policy for operational ATC systems; and the Office of
Research and Acquisitions has not adequately implemented policy for
new ATC systems development.  For example, the Office of Civil
Aviation Security has not enforced FAA policies that require the
assessment of physical security controls at all ATC facilities and
vulnerabilities, threats, and safeguards for all operational ATC
computer systems; the Office of Air Traffic Services has not
implemented FAA policies that require it to analyze all ATC systems
for security vulnerabilities, threats, and safeguards; and the Office
of Research and Acquisitions has not implemented the FAA policy that
requires it to include, in specifications for all new ATC
modernization systems, requirements for security based on risk
assessments. 

FAA established a central security focal point, the NIS group, to
develop additional security guidance (i.e., a security architecture,
a security concept of operations, and security standards), to conduct
risk assessments of selected ATC systems, to create a mechanism to
respond to security incidents, and to provide security engineering
support to ATC system development teams.  The NIS group includes
members from the Offices of Civil Aviation Security, Air Traffic
Services, and Research and Acquisitions. 

Establishing a central security focal point is a practice employed by
leading security organizations.  In order to be effective, the
security focal point must have the authority to enforce the
organization's security policies or have access to senior executives
that are organizationally positioned to take action and effect change
across organizational divisions.  One approach for ensuring that a
central group has such access at FAA would be to place it under a
Chief Information Officer (CIO) who reports directly to the FAA
Administrator.  This approach is consistent with the Clinger-Cohen
Act,\14 which requires that major federal departments and agencies
establish CIOs who report to the department/agency head and are
responsible for implementing effective information management. 

FAA does not have a CIO reporting to the Administrator.  Although the
NIS group has access to certain key Associate Administrators (e.g.,
the Associate Administrator for Civil Aviation Security and the
Associate Administrator for Research and Acquisitions), it does not
have access to the management level that can effect change across
organizational divisions (e.g., FAA's Administrator or Deputy
Administrator).  Thus, there is no assurance that the NIS group's
guidance, once issued, will be adequately implemented and enforced,
that results of its risk assessments will be acted upon, and that all
security breaches will be reported and adequately responded to. 
Until existing ATC computer security policy is effectively
implemented and enforced, operational and developmental ATC systems
will continue to be vulnerable to compromise of sensitive information
and interruption of critical services. 

In addition, OMB Circular A-130, Appendix III, requires that systems,
such as ATC systems, be accredited by the management official who is
responsible for the functions supported by the systems and whose
mission is adversely affected by any security weaknesses that remain
(i.e., the official who owns the operational systems).  At FAA, this
management official is the Associate Administrator for Air Traffic
Services.  However, FAA's ATC systems authorizing official is the
Associate Administrator for Civil Aviation Security, who does not own
the operational ATC systems. 


--------------------
\14 The 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act, Public Law No.  104-106, section
5125, 110 Stat.  684 (1996). 


   CONCLUSIONS
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :8

Since physical security is the agency's first line of defense against
criminal and terrorist attack, failure to strengthen physical
security controls at ATC towers, TRACONS, and en route centers places
property and the safety of the flying public at risk.  Information
system security safeguards, either those now in place or those
planned for future ATC systems, cannot be fully effective as long as
FAA continues to function with significant physical security
vulnerabilities.  Also, because FAA has not assessed physical
security controls at all facilities since 1993, it does not know how
vulnerable they are. 

Similarly, FAA does not know how vulnerable its operational ATC
systems are and cannot adequately protect them until it performs the
appropriate system risk assessments and certifies and accredits ATC
systems.  In addition, FAA is not effectively incorporating security
controls into new ATC systems.  FAA has taken preliminary steps to
develop security guidance by forming the NIS group and estimating the
cost to fill this void.  However, until this group develops the
guidance and the ATC development teams apply it, new ATC system
development will not effectively address security issues. 

Until FAA's three organizations responsible for ATC system security
carry out their computer security responsibilities adequately,
sensitive information is at risk of being compromised and flight
services interrupted.  Moreover, central security groups assigned to
assist these organizations can only be successful if they have the
authority to enforce their actions or a direct line to top management
to ensure that needed changes can be implemented across
organizational divisions.  At FAA this central security group has
neither.  Finally, FAA's designated ATC system accrediting authority
is inconsistent with federal guidance and sound management practices
since this designee is not responsible for the daily operations of
ATC systems. 


   RECOMMENDATIONS
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :9

Given the importance of physical security at the FAA facilities that
house ATC systems, we recommend that the Secretary of Transportation
direct the FAA Administrator to complete the following tasks: 

  -- Develop and execute a plan to inspect the 187 ATC facilities
     that have not been inspected in over 4 years and correct any
     weaknesses identified so that these ATC facilities can be
     granted physical security accreditation as expeditiously as
     possible, but no later than April 30, 1999. 

  -- Correct identified physical security weaknesses at inspected
     facilities so that these ATC facilities can be granted physical
     security accreditation as expeditiously as possible, but no
     later than April 30, 1999. 

  -- Ensure that the required annual or triennial follow-up
     inspections are conducted, deficiencies are promptly corrected,
     and accreditation is kept current for all ATC facilities, as
     required by FAA policy. 

Given the importance of operational ATC systems security, we
recommend that the Secretary of Transportation direct the FAA
Administrator to complete the following tasks: 

  -- Assess, certify, and accredit all ATC systems, as required by
     FAA policy, as expeditiously as possible, but no later than
     April 30, 1999. 

  -- Ensure that all systems are assessed, certified, and accredited
     at least every 3 years, as required by federal policy. 

To improve security for future ATC modernization systems, we
recommend that the Secretary of Transportation direct the FAA
Administrator to ensure that

  -- specifications for all new ATC systems include security
     requirements based on detailed security assessments by requiring
     that security requirements be included as a criterion when FAA
     analyzes new systems for funding under its acquisition
     management system and

  -- the NIS group establishes detailed plans and schedules to
     develop a security architecture, a security concept of
     operations, and security standards and that these plans are
     implemented. 

We further recommend that the Secretary report FAA physical security
controls at its ATC facilities, operational ATC system security, and
the lack of information security guidance (e.g., a security
architecture, a security concept of operations, and security
standards) as material internal control weaknesses in the
department's fiscal year 1998 FMFIA report and in subsequent annual
FMFIA reports until these problems are substantially corrected. 

Finally, we recommend that the Secretary of Transportation direct the
FAA Administrator to establish an effective management structure for
developing, implementing, and enforcing ATC computer security policy. 
Given the importance and the magnitude of the information technology
initiative at FAA, we are expanding on our earlier recommendation
that a CIO management structure similar to the department-level CIOs
as prescribed in the Clinger-Cohen Act be established for FAA\15 by
recommending that FAA's CIO be responsible for computer security.  We
further recommend that the NIS group report to the CIO and that the
CIO direct the NIS group to implement its plans.  In addition, we
recommend that the CIO designate a senior manager in Air Traffic
Services to be the ATC operational accrediting authority. 

We made two additional recommendations pertaining to operational ATC
systems security in our "Limited Official Use" report. 


--------------------
\15 Air Traffic Control:  Complete and Enforced Architecture Needed
for FAA Systems Modernization (GAO/AIMD-97-30, Feb.  3, 1997) and Air
Traffic Control :  Immature Software Acquisition Processes Increase
FAA System Acquisition Risks (GAO/AIMD-97-47, Mar.  21, 1997). 


   AGENCY COMMENTS AND OUR
   EVALUATION
----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :10

The Department of Transportation provided written comments on a draft
of our "Limited Official Use" report.  In summary, the department
recognized that facility, systems, and data security are critical
elements in FAA's management of the nation's ATC systems and that
adequate physical security controls are important to ensure the
safety of employees and ATC systems.  The department agreed that
required FAA inspections should be completed and said that immediate
action had been directed to inspect and, where appropriate, accredit
the 187 facilities identified in the draft report, that inspections
had already been completed for about 100 of these facilities, and
that completion of the remaining inspections was expected by June
1998. 

However, the department did not state what, if any, specific action
it would take on the remaining 14 recommendations.  Further, while
the department did not dispute any of the facts presented, it offered
alternative interpretations of some of them.  For example, the
department did not agree that FAA's management of computer security
has been inappropriate or that ATC systems are vulnerable to the
point of jeopardizing flight safety.  In addition, the department
stated that the report does not present a complete picture regarding
decisions guiding FAA resource allocation in that it does not
recognize the basis for FAA decisions to allocate resources to other
concerns facing FAA, rather than to correcting computer security
vulnerabilities.  We do not agree with these alternative
interpretations. 

As discussed in the report, FAA's management of facility, systems,
and data security is ineffective for the following reasons: 

  -- Known physical security weakness persist at many ATC facilities,
     and FAA is unaware of weaknesses that may exist at another 187
     facilities. 

  -- FAA has not analyzed the threats and vulnerabilities, or
     developed safeguards to protect 87 of its 90 operational ATC
     computer systems and 8 of its 9 operational ATC
     telecommunications networks. 

  -- FAA does not have a well-defined security architecture, a
     security concept of operations, or security standards, and does
     not consistently include well formulated security requirements
     in specifications for new ATC systems. 

  -- None of the three organizations responsible for ATC security
     have discharged their respective security responsibilities
     effectively:  the Office of Civil Aviation Security has not
     adequately enforced FAA policies that require the assessment of
     (1) physical security controls at all ATC facilities and (2)
     vulnerabilities, threats, and safeguards of all operational ATC
     computer systems; the Office of Air Traffic Services has not
     implemented FAA policies that require it to analyze all ATC
     systems for security vulnerabilities, threats, and safeguards;
     and the Office of Research and Acquisitions has not implemented
     FAA policy that requires it to formulate requirements for
     security in specifications for all new ATC modernization
     systems. 

FAA has recognized for several years that its vulnerabilities could
jeopardize, and have already jeopardized, flight safety.  In its 1994
Telecommunications Plan, FAA states that vulnerabilities that can be
exploited in aeronautical telecommunications potentially threaten
property and public safety.  Vulnerabilities that have jeopardized
flight safety are discussed in our "Limited Official Use" report. 

Finally, making judicious decisions regarding resource allocation
requires a thorough understanding of relative levels of risk, as well
as reliable estimates of costs.  As we have reported, FAA has not
fully assessed its security vulnerabilities and threats and does not
understand its security risks.  Further, since it has not formulated
countermeasures, it cannot reliably estimate the cost to mitigate the
risks.  As a result, FAA has no analytical basis for its decisions
not to allocate resources to security.  In recent years, FAA has
invested billions of dollars in failed efforts to modernize its ATC
systems while critical security vulnerabilities went uncorrected. 

The department's comments and our detailed evaluation of them are
presented in our "Limited Official Use" report. 


--------------------------------------------------------- Letter :10.1

As agreed with your office, unless you publicly announce the contents
of this report earlier, we will not distribute it until 30 days from
its date.  At that time, we will send copies to the Secretary of
Transportation; the Director, Office of Management and Budget; the
Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration; and interested
congressional committees.  Copies will be available to others upon
request.  If you have any questions about this report, please call me
at (202) 512-6253.  I can also be reached by e-mail at
[email protected]  Major contributors to this report are
listed in appendix I. 

Joel C.  Willemssen
Director, Civil Agencies Information Systems


MAJOR CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS REPORT
=========================================================== Appendix I


   ACCOUNTING AND INFORMATION
   MANAGEMENT DIVISION,
   WASHINGTON, D.C. 
--------------------------------------------------------- Appendix I:1

Dr.  Rona B.  Stillman, Chief Scientist for Computers and
 Telecommunications
Keith A.  Rhodes, Technical Director
Randolph C.  Hite, Senior Assistant Director
Colleen M.  Phillips, Assistant Director
Hai V.  Tran, Technical Assistant Director
Nabajyoti Barkakati, Technical Assistant Director
David A.  Powner, Evaluator-in-Charge
Barbarol J.  James, ADP/Telecommunications Analyst

*** End of document. ***