Dept. of Interior Ordered to Disconnect from Web

For the second time in less than two years, a federal judge has ordered the Interior Department to disconnect from the Internet in order to protect $1 billion in American Indian money managed by the agency.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said Interior’s refusal to cooperate with a court-appointed master who wanted to test the security of Interior’s systems, prompted the decision. The government claimed it did not cooperate with Security Assurance Group of Annapolis, Md., because they could not agree on the “rules of engagement.”

In ordering Interior to unplug from the wired world, Lamberth granted exceptions to “any system essential for protection against fires and other threat to life or property.” The order did not make clear whether Interior sites such as a the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, which do not maintain or contain any Indian records, were part of the shutdown order.

The dispute dates back to 1999, when American Indian tribes filed a lawsuit saying Interior had not responsibly managed Indian land royalties. Lamberth ordered a full accounting and appointed Alan Balaran to have oversight authority on how Interior protects Indian trust fund data. Balaran, in turn, hired the Security Assurance Group for security testing.

In 2001, Balaran reported to Lamberth that he had successfully hacked into Interior’s system and the judge ordered them shut down. The systems were down for months, including some the department’s most popular sites.

Eventually, firewalls and other security measures were put in place and Lamberth allowed Interior sites to reconnect with the Internet.

However, earlier this month the Justice Department informed the Security Assurance Group it would no longer provide security data or allow penetration testing. The government primarily cited cost factors and unsure set of rules to determine system security.

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