Audit finds holes in Canberra's finance systems

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Lack of DR, weak passwords and no audit trails in some systems.

The Australian National Audit Office has discovered that several of Canberra’s most critical Government agencies – including Customs, the Department of Finance and the DBCDE – have been operating financial and HR systems without adequate controls in place around user identity and security.

The ANAO report also found that Australia’s Electoral Commission failed to have adequate disaster recovery or IT security controls in place.

The discoveries were made as part of a routine annual audit of the Financial Statements of Federal Government Agencies [PDF], which included an analysis of the internal controls of major agencies.

The audit identified “weaknesses” in Customs and Border Protection’s IT security policy – including “insufficient complexity of passwords”, “lack of monitoring of privileged users” and instances where there was inappropriate approval of new users.

The audit also found weaknesses in the management of user access to Customs’ Integrated Cargo System.

The Australian Electoral Commission, meanwhile, was found wanting in terms of IT security and business continuity.

The 2009/10 audit identified that the AEC had no disaster recovery plans for all of its IT systems and had never simulated any disasters to test its business continuity.

“This increases the risk that in the event of an interruption to business operations, an accident, or a disaster, the AEC will be unable to restore critical business systems within acceptable timeframes,” the report noted.

Further, the ANAO identified that the electoral office did not comply with the Government’s Information Security Manual (ISM), but did not go into any detail.

Systems access was also an issue for the Department of Finance, the Department of Broadband, Communication and the Digital Economy (DBCDE), AUSTRAC (Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre) and CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority).

AUSTRAC – which was also found to have breached Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines – was found to have no delegation limits to its finance system for part of the year – a situation quickly remedied post the audit.

The Department of Finance, meanwhile, was cautioned after the username and password of a “super user”- with access to high-level systems - was found freely available in plain text format on a network drive that a significant number of Finance staff had access to.

The DBCDE was not found to have any access control issues, but its finance systems lacked an adequate audit trail to determine which staff had accessed or made changes in the system.

“During the 2009–10 final audit, the ANAO confirmed that DBCDE had addressed this matter by the removal of these access privileges and by implementing a system to proactively monitor system access,” the report said.

CASA was also found to lack a sufficient audit trail with regards to its finance and HR systems. And like Customs, a number of CASA users were found to be using default passwords that were not complex enough.

“These accounts were not uniquely identifiable to an individual,” the audit noted. “This situation also provided higher levels of privileged access than  required.” 

CASA’s IT security posture was also criticised after the auditor discovered that developers had access to the IT production environment of its finance and HR systems, which the ANAO labelled “a lack of segregation of duties”.

“The  lack of segregation  of  duties  increased  the  risk  of  unauthorised,  erroneous  and/or untested  program  changes  being  implemented  into  production,  as  well  as increasing  the  risk  of  inappropriate  changes  to  the  production  environment that may not be detected in a timely manner,” the audit report said. “This situation increases the risk of CASA’s system integrity and data availability being compromised.”

CASA argued that changing the way its development and production systems operated was not cost effective – but agreed to implement systems to log access.

ANAO judged most of the breaches to be "moderate" in nature and noted that many of the agencies had already worked to improve IT security as a result.

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