at the Agriculture Department announced last month that the agency’s
computer network is blocking more than 400 websites, including
social media companies Facebook and WhatsApp, in an attempt to stop
employees and contractors from viewing pornography on agency time.
to a Feb. 23 memo obtained byFederal
News Radio, Chris Lowe, the agency’s chief information
security officer, told employees that the agency will prevent access
to social media websites “not related to official department
communications or business” beginning Wednesday. Accompanying the
announcement was a list of more than 400 sites that will be blocked,
including Snapchat in addition to Facebook and WhatsApp.
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,” Lowe wrote. “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.”
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with the Agriculture Department did not respond to a request for
announcement comes on the heels of areportlast
fall from the Agriculture Department Office of the Inspector
General, which outlined a sharp uptick in employees and contractors
using the agency’s computers and networks for inappropriate
purposes, particularly viewing pornography, since officials
installed a network security system to monitor network traffic for
potential threats “in real time” in 2015.
2015, the [Office of the Chief Information Officer] has referred 229
[Agriculture Security Operations Center] ‘network usage notice’
referrals to USDA OIG involving USDA employees and/or contractors
accessing websites on government equipment which contain pornography
and possible child pornography,” wrote Assistant Inspector General
Ann Coffey. “This employee misconduct is preventable, and it
unnecessarily exposes USDA and its systems to significant risk.”
report said that in addition to the fact that Congress requires
agency computer networks to block avenues for viewing pornography,
websites that host porn are often major security risks.
that disseminate pornographic material historically have proven
themselves to be a network attack vector and, as such, present an
ideal opportunity for those individuals who would seek to compromise
a USDA employee or contractor for the purposes of extorting access
to the department’s network(s), and/or sensitive or classified
information,” Coffey wrote.
report recommended that the agency assess current software used to
monitor IT systems and whether it is effective in blocking
prohibited websites, and if necessary, officials should find and
install a better one. An agency spokesperson told Federal News Radio
that USDA is working to comply with those recommendations.