Mar 21, 2013 (09:03 AM EDT)
NASA Tightens Security In Response To Insider Threat

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Military Drones Present And Future: Visual Tour
Military Drones Present And Future: Visual Tour
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NASA has closed down its technical reports database and imposed tighter restrictions on remote access to its computer systems following the arrest of a Chinese contractor on suspicion of intellectual property theft.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden outlined those and other security measures in March 20 testimony before a congressional subcommittee. Bolden said he had ordered a review of the access that foreign nationals from designated countries -- including China, Iran and North Korea -- are given to NASA facilities and a moratorium on providing new access to citizens of those countries.

The agency's actions follow the March 16 arrest of Bo Jiang, a Chinese citizen, at Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., as he prepared to leave the United States. The FBI, in its application for an arrest warrant, said it was investigating violations of the Arms Export Control Act.

[ NASA has suffered other security breaches in recent months. Read Stolen NASA Laptop Had Unencrypted Employee Data. ]

Jiang worked as a contractor with the National Institute of Aerospace, a nonprofit research organization, at NASA's Langley Research Center. During a border stop at Dulles, Jiang allegedly said that he had in his possession a cellphone, memory stick, external hard drive and new computer. During a subsequent search of Jiang's possessions, the agents found a second laptop, hard drive and SIM card, according to the arrest warrant.

Jiang was arraigned March 19 in federal district court in Norfolk, Va., on a charge of lying to federal agents. The contents of the confiscated electronic media have not been revealed.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds the space agency, said in a press conference that whistleblowers at NASA prompted the investigation. Wolf said Jiang was working on high-tech imaging technology that could be of potential interest to the Chinese military. Citing the arrest warrant, Wolf said Jiang had previously traveled to China with a NASA laptop "that agents believe to have contained sensitive information."

Wolf accused NASA of circumventing restrictions on the hiring of foreign nationals and said he had evidence that the NIA might employ other Chinese nationals under similar arrangements. The congressman called on NASA to audit all of its contractors that employ citizens of countries or organizations considered "entities of concern."

Wolf, in his seventeenth year in Congress, has been focused on the threat of Chinese cyber espionage. Earlier this month, he warned of security threats and the potential leak of classified information at NASA's Ames Research Center, and he pointed to the Chinese government's "systematic and aggressive efforts to steal" sensitive technology.

A well-defended perimeter is only half the battle in securing the government's IT environments. Agencies must also protect their most valuable data. Also in the new, all-digital Secure The Data Center issue of InformationWeek Government: The White House's gun control efforts are at risk of failure because the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' outdated Firearms Tracing System is in need of an upgrade. (Free registration required.)