Thursday, March 17, 2011

IRS's Lack of Internal Controls Puts Confidential Taxpayer Info at Risk

A couple of days ago the Government Accountability Office (GOA) released their newest report: IRS Needs to Enhance Internal Control over Financial Reporting and Taxpayer Data (GAO-11-308). Check out the GOA's findings below, or download a PDF of the full report here. This is absolutely terrifying when you think of all the personal info we give the IRS each year. Come on, IRS, get it together!

    Although IRS made progress in correcting previously reported information security weaknesses, control weaknesses over key financial and tax processing systems continue to jeopardize the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of financial and sensitive taxpayer information. Specifically, IRS did not consistently implement controls that were intended to prevent, limit, and detect unauthorized access to its financial systems and information. For example, the agency did not sufficiently (1) restrict users’ access to databases to only the access needed to perform their jobs; (2) secure the system it uses to support and manage its computer access request, approval, and review processes; (3) update database software residing on servers that support its general ledger system; and (4) enable certain auditing features on databases supporting several key systems. In addition, 65 of 88—about 74 percent—of previously reported weaknesses remain unresolved or unmitigated.

    An underlying reason for these weaknesses is that IRS has not yet fully implemented key components of its comprehensive information security program. Although IRS has processes in place intended to monitor and assess its internal controls, these processes were not always effective. For example, IRS’s testing did not detect many of the vulnerabilities GAO identified during this audit and did not assess a key application in its current environment. Further, the agency had not effectively validated corrective actions reported to resolve previously identified weaknesses. Although IRS had a process in place for verifying whether each weakness had been corrected, this process was not always working as intended. For example, the agency reported that it had resolved 39 of the 88 previously identified weaknesses; however, 16 of the 39 weaknesses had not been mitigated.

    IRS has various initiatives underway to bolster security over its networks and systems; however, until the agency corrects the identified weaknesses, its financial systems and information remain unnecessarily vulnerable to insider threats, including errors or mistakes and fraudulent or malevolent acts by insiders. As a result, financial and taxpayer information are at increased risk of unauthorized disclosure, modification, or destruction; financial data is at increased risk of errors that result in misstatement; and the agency’s management decisions may be based on unreliable or inaccurate financial information. These weaknesses, considered collectively, are the basis for GAO’s determination that IRS had a material weakness in internal control over financial reporting related to information security in fiscal year 2010.

Hat Tip: TaxProf

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