Thompson Probes Weak IRS Computer Security Taxpayer Information at Risk of Unauthorized Disclosure

Washington, DC – Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred Thompson (R-TN) released a General Accounting Office (GAO) report today that criticizes computer security practices at the Internal Revenue Service.

“The IRS is leaving the door open for computer hackers to target taxpayers’ social security and financial information,” said Senator Thompson. “Personal information on IRS computers is at risk to unauthorized disclosure, destruction or modification, and most alarmingly, to identity theft.

The GAO report, “IRS Systems Security,” was requested by Senator Thompson as part of the Committee’s oversight of the security of federal information on government computers. The GAO reported that,”weaknesses in IRS computer security controls continue to place IRS’s automated systems and taxpayer data at serious risk to both internal and external attack.”

More needs to be done at IRS to combat the unauthorized access or browsing of taxpayer records by agency employees. For example, the GAO found that IRS’ ability to detect and monitor employee browsing of taxpayer data remains limited. In addition, unauthorized employees were given access to sensitive computer areas while employees whose jobs did not require it were given the ability to change, alter, or delete taxpayer data.

The GAO reported that the IRS could not account for a total of 397 missing computer tapes, some of which contain sensitive taxpayer data or privacy information. The GAO also found that tapes and disks containing taxpayer data were not overwritten prior to reuse, thus potentially allowing unauthorized access to sensitive data.

“While some improvement has been made at IRS, they still have a long way to go,” said Thompson. “Until the IRS systematically fixes its computer security weaknesses, instead of only patching isolated security problems, taxpayers will continue to be exposed to loss and damages resulting from identify fraud and other financial crimes.”

# # #