Computer thefts prompt Los Alamos security review

Department of Energy criticizes nuclear research lab for lack of controls

The Los Alamos National Laboratories has launched a month-long project aimed at ensuring that offsite computer systems fully comply the institution's information security policies. Los Alamos officials are also conducting a full review of its policies and its procedures governing the use of official computers at home by employees of the laboratory.

The moves come after last month's theft of three computers from the home of an employee and the subsequent disclosure several dozen more systems are currently listed as missing from the top US nuclear weapons laboratory.

Jeffrey Berger, director of the communications at the Los Alamos, N.M. facility, office at the laboratory said that lab officials are taking the issue of the missing computers "very seriously." He noted that only one of the computers that was stolen from the employee's home was authorized for home use.

Berger did say that none of the missing systems held classified data. "It is true that [the Los Alamos lab], like any large organization that uses computers, has had computers go missing or get stolen," Berger said in an e-mail. But he insisted that despite apparent thefts, the lab has "consistently earned some of the highest ratings for property accountability" within the US Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

The latest apparent security breach at the Los Alamos lab follows a DOE move in July 2007 to fine the lab for an October 2006 breach that exposed classified data. In that case, a contract worker illegally downloaded and removed hundreds of pages of classified data from the lab via USB thumb drives.

Barely a month earlier, lawmakers slammed the Los Alamos lab after it was discovered that several Los Alamos officials had used unprotected e-mail networks to share highly classified information. And in June 2000, several computer disks containing classified information on how to disarm Russian and American nuclear devices were found to be missing from a secure storage area.

News of the missing computers was disclosed earlier this month by the Project on Government Oversight, or POGO. The watchdog group posted a memo on its site from the NNSA expressing concern over the theft of the three computers from the home of a Los Alamos National Security LLC (LANS) employee in January. LANS runs the facility for the US.

In addition to the missing computers, POGO also disclosed, that a LANL employee had lost a lab-owned BlackBerry in a "sensitive" but undisclosed foreign nation.

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