Wireless Security Puts IRS Data at Risk
Internal Revenue Service offices across the nation that use wireless technology
are still vulnerable to hackers, according to the latest assessment of the agency's
security policies released Tuesday.
Despite efforts to improve wireless security the past four years, the Inspector
General's assessment of 20 buildings in 10 cities discovered four separate locations
at which hackers could have easily gained access to IRS computers using wireless
There was no evidence that the computers were connected to the IRS network
at the time and no signs that any hacking had occurred, the report said.
"However, anyone with a wireless detection tool could pick up the wireless
signal and gain access to the computer," wrote Michael Phillips, the Inspector
And if an employee had been connected to the IRS network, "a hacker conceivably
could gain access to the IRS network," which contains sensitive financial
data of more than 226 million taxpayers, he added.
The vulnerabilities were discovered in Denver and at three other IRS facilities
in Texas and Florida.
Wireless networks are created by linking computers using hardware called routers.
The devices enable wireless laptop or mobile device users, such as Treos, to
send signals back and forth to each other. Data can be encrypted, but the report
said that software available on the Internet can decode the encryption.
The inspector general's office said it used inexpensive wireless equipment
and software freely available on the Internet to scan the facilities for wireless
According to the report, the IRS also is not effectively monitoring its uses
of wireless technology. As of May 2006, the agency had scanned fewer than 6
percent of all IRS offices -- mainly in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore
The inspector general's office recommended increased of the IRS network for
unapproved wireless devices and educating employees about security risks. The
report said the agency agreed with the IG's recommendations and will implement