Chris Lowe, chief information security officer from Agriculture Department blocked more than 400 websites after numerous instances of employees and contractors watching adult sites on agency computers.
Corresponding memo was sent to staff detailing the sites to be blocked, which include popular sites such as Facebook, Snapchat and What’sApp as well as dozens of incomprehensible URLs.
“In response to a Management Alert Memo from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) regarding the “Misuse of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Information Technology Networks”, the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) will be implementing a block on social media websites not related to official Department communications or business on March 7th, 2018,” Lowe said in the Feb. 23 email message to staff obtained by Federal News Radio. “The websites that are included in this block are attached to this message and should be reviewed to ensure official USDA business and communications is not impacted. We have worked with the Office of Communications to ensure this list does not conflict with official USDA channels of communication, however, we ask that you review to check for impact to your mission areas and agencies.”
Multiple messages and emails to USDA press asking for confirmation on changes to Lowe’s job were not answered.
The IG reported that since 2015, the security operations center notices about 225 cases of inappropriate usage to its office.
Concerns about USDA employees visiting pornography websites garnered the attention of Congress, which included a provision in the fiscal 2017 Consolidated Appropriations Act saying the agency had to block the ability of employees to view, download or exchange pornography in order to spend any funding on the IT infrastructure.
“We note that in October 2016, USDA installed the Department of Homeland Security’s EINSTEIN 3A software,” the OIG wrote in the alert. “The software has in-line network-based cyber security monitoring tools to protect USDA’s data and systems. It does not appear, however, to be effectively blocking access to these prohibited websites. Since October 2016, USDA OIG has received 81 referrals from the ASOC of potentially improper usage.”
It’s unclear from the memo why it took USDA five months to block these sites. As one federal security professional told me, why not just block them and don’t tell anyone about it? The expert said it seems odd to send out a memo alerting staff of the changes.
Unfortunately, USDA is not the first, nor will be the last agency, to find its employees looking at pornography during the work day or on federal equipment.
We so not encourage you watching inappropriate websites at work, but if you are looking for a solution how to access blocked sites at work, you can use a VPN – virtual private network.
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