The WINZ data fiasco - a symptom of "driving change for lower cost"?

by Toby Manhire / 15 October, 2012
On the government's ICT strategy, and the high-level security guidelines ignored - published by guess who?


When the Ministry of Social Development magazine Rise (PDF) cheered the roll-out of self-service kiosks at Work and Income branches across the country, enthusing that "the distinctive blue kiosks allow people to help themselves", I don't think they antipated quite the extent to which that was true.

The consensus is building that the revelations around the information security at the MSD, as exposed by Keith Ng's journey into a WINZ kiosk computer, point to a systemic failure.

Coming days will reveal, no doubt, whether the Swiss-cheese-shaped MSD system, which permitted Ng to relatively effortlessly browse through private information (invoices, mostly) on the network, have been brought on by corner-cutting – and, indeed, whether that is systemic.

But it’s worth noting for the moment that the “Government ICT directions and priorities” (in their words “a medium-term strategy for how central government will more collectively lead the use, development and purchasing of government ICT over the next three years”) is underpinned explicitly – as explicitly as in the project’s logo – by, first, “driving change for lower cost”.



It’s not, however, as though there isn’t plenty of helpful material out there for the people putting together the information systems.

Did the nincompoops responsible for overseeing the Ministry of Social Development’s network not, for example, consult the New Zealand Information Security Manual?

The Manual, an exhaustive 300-page guide (it’s here in PDF, if you’re looking for bedtime reading), is introduced thus:

Effective information, systems and cyber security is fundamental to the management of many of the challenges facing government, underpinning public confidence and vital for the effective, efficient and safe conduct of public business. The Prime Minister and Cabinet delegate responsibility for security to Chief Executives and heads of government departments and agencies. Security is, however, the responsibility of everyone.


The New Zealand Information Security Manual (which abbreviates to NZISM, sounding suspiciously like a nationalistic point of view) is the national baseline technical security policy, describing baseline and minimum mandatory technical security standards for government departments and agencies.


And along the way it includes the following:

Vulnerability analysis strategy


Agencies should implement a vulnerability analysis strategy by:


• monitoring public domain information about new vulnerabilities in operating systems and application software


• considering the use of automated tools to perform vulnerability assessments on systems in a controlled manner


• running manual checks against system configurations to ensure that only allowed services are active and that disallowed services are prevented, and


• using security checklists for operating systems and common applications.


Conducting vulnerability assessments


It is recommended that agencies conduct vulnerability assessments on systems:


• before the system is first used


• after a significant change to the system, and


• as specified by an ITSM or the system owner.


Resolving vulnerabilities


Agencies should analyse and treat any security risks to their systems identified during a vulnerability assessment.


Vulnerability analysis strategy


While agencies are encouraged to monitor public domain information for vulnerabilities that could affect their systems, they should not remain complacent if no specific vulnerabilities relating to deployed products are disclosed.


In some cases, vulnerabilities can be introduced as a result of poor cyber security practices or accidental activities within an agency. As such, even if no new public domain vulnerabilities in deployed products have been disclosed there is still value to be gained from regular vulnerability analysis activities.


One final thing. The publisher of the New Zealand Information Security Manual? The – ahem – Government Communications Security Bureau.
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