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IRS Leaves Taxpayer Data Largely Unprotected 152

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the paying-for-the-privilege dept.
LogError writes "Two weeks ago, Department of Treasury received a D-minus grade in the Federal Computer Security Report Card for 2005, down from a D-plus grade in 2004. The majority of Treasury systems are those belonging to IRS. The government-wide computer-security grade for 2005 was D-plus, while Homeland Security and Defense both received an F. Grades are based on reports submitted to Congress by the agencies; the reports are required under the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002.8 The scores are meant to reflect whether departments meet federally mandated security standards."
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IRS Leaves Taxpayer Data Largely Unprotected

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  • See! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Average_Joe_Sixpack (534373) on Friday April 07, 2006 @05:01PM (#15087783)
    This is why I refuse to pay income taxes!
    • Careful... (Score:5, Funny)

      by JeanBaptiste (537955) on Friday April 07, 2006 @05:05PM (#15087820)
      This is why I refuse to pay income taxes!

      Careful, they got a D- in protecting data, but they have an A doubleplus in 'tracking your ass down and throwing you in jail'. ask Al Capone.
      • Re:Careful... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by VJ42 (860241) on Friday April 07, 2006 @05:13PM (#15087895)
        they have an A doubleplus in 'tracking your ass down and throwing you in jail'.

        It's for this reason that I've never understood why governments don't set the tax services (I don't live in the USA; We call the equivilent of the IRS the Inland revenue, there's no service about it on this side of the Atlantic.) onto "Teh Terrorists!!!" They are the only branch of the state that can track anyone down quickely and eaisly; surley they should be put in chrge of what you call "homeland security". ;)
        • Re:Careful... (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Valdrax (32670)
          They are the only branch of the state that can track anyone down quickely and eaisly; surley they should be put in chrge of what you call "homeland security". ;)

          I know you're joking and all, but I still feel like pointing out for those who modded you Insightful why this isn't so simple.

          American taxpayers sign up each year and tell the government whether they're obeying the law or not by filing (or not filing) their tax returns. Terrorists don't register with the government to say that they're terrorists.
        • I've never understood why governments don't set the tax services (I don't live in the USA; We call the equivilent of the IRS the Inland revenue, there's no service about it on this side of the Atlantic.) onto "Teh Terrorists!!!"

          Well, assuming that terrorists actually file taxes and don't lie about their income, it would be illegal to use that info in criminal prosecution, as that would violate the 5th ammendment. Despite whatever the Chimp in Chief thinks, the constitution applies to everyone in the coun

          • Well, assuming that terrorists actually file taxes and don't lie about their income, it would be illegal to use that info in criminal prosecution, as that would violate the 5th ammendment.

            The 5th amendment protects you from being compelled to testify against yourself in a court. If you volunteer the information, you're out of luck.
            • Re:Careful... (Score:5, Interesting)

              by Fulcrum of Evil (560260) on Friday April 07, 2006 @06:47PM (#15088452)

              The 5th amendment protects you from being compelled to testify against yourself in a court. If you volunteer the information, you're out of luck.

              You are compelled to list your income and occupation on the tax forms. Therefore, the IRS cannot share that info with the FBI or local cops. If you're a hooker and you declare that you made $150,000 last year and give uncle sam his cut, they won't do a damn thing to you. They won't (can't) tip off vice, because it's illegal.

            • Re:Careful... (Score:5, Informative)

              by Elemenope (905108) on Friday April 07, 2006 @06:49PM (#15088465)
              The SC has ruled (on more than one occasion) that a person cannot lawfully evade filling out an accurate Tax statement, ergo it is compelled and not volunteered, ergo it is not admissable against you in criminal proceedings not involving tax evasion.
        • The trouble is, the terrorists have their incomes outside the states, and are just spending money here. Therefore, they don't owe any taxes and the IRS has no reason to track them down.
        • It's for this reason that I've never understood why governments don't set the tax services (I don't live in the USA; We call the equivilent of the IRS the Inland revenue, there's no service about it on this side of the Atlantic.) onto "Teh Terrorists!!!"

          Actually, they have. There was a recent article on how Kim Il-Jong is in a world of hurt because the Treasury Department, with a lot of international cooperation, has been investigating and shutting down North Korea's illegal sources of income and goods.

    • Re:See! (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by WillAffleckUW (858324)
      This is why I refuse to pay income taxes!

      Sorry, Paris Hilton, but it's still not an excuse.
  • IRS Leaves Taxpayer Data Largely Unprotected

    This story acts as we should be surprised. The government serves the people. The IRS, on the other hand, serves the government. I let you figure out where the disconnect is.
    • > > IRS Leaves Taxpayer Data Largely Unprotected
      >
      >This story acts as we should be surprised. The government serves the people. The IRS, on the other hand, serves the government. I let you figure out where the disconnect is.

      Remember, remember, the Fifteenth of April,
      Congress, Corruption, and Rot,
      I see no reason, why taxpaying season,
      Should ever be forgot.

      "The IRS should not be afraid of the people. The people should be afraid of the IRS."
      -A for AMT.

    • Where you start spreading the myth about governments serving its people. Ain't been that way for quite some time now.
  • IRS Hacking (Score:2, Funny)

    by jimbolauski (882977)
    Who in their right mind would hack into the IRS sure it would be nice to add a zero to my return but you don't f*** with the IRS.
    • you don't f*** with the IRS.

      That's why potential hackers wouldn't. They'd want to leave things nice and tidy, just the way they found them.

      Who in their right mind would hack into the IRS

      Someone looking for information on Bill Gates' bank accounts, or perhaps information useful in blackmailing someone. Financial information is very sensitive stuff. The IRS gets more than their share during normal filings. Just imagine how much info they collect during an audit!
    • by Alias777 (841435)
      This is the Internet. You can say "fuck" here.
      • But can you say "shit"? Oh, I guess you can.
        • Randy: That word's kind of getting old. It's not really funny anymore.
          Man: Yeah, they're gonna have to come up with a new swear word now.
          Mr. Garrison: Well, they can't use "fag." Because you can't say "fag" unless you're a homosexual.
          Randy: Really? So we can't say (bleep)?
          Mr. Garrison: No. See, you got beeped.
          Man: You mean you have to be a (bleep) to say (bleep)?
          Mr. Garrison: That's right.
          Jimbo: Hell, that's not fair! I should be able to say "fag."
          Randy: Hey, you didn't get beeped.
          Jimbo: Uh, oh.
          Mr. Garrison
      • This is the Internet. You can say "fuck" here.

        I'm glad you're the one making the rules here :)

        Fuckety, fuck, fuck, fuck!

    • ...it would be nice to add a zero to my return...

      I decided to help you out there. Here you go.
      Instead of getting a return of $237.13, you will now receive $237.130.

      Have a nice day!
  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Friday April 07, 2006 @05:03PM (#15087800) Homepage Journal
    Cost of providing security against non-existent WMDs that couldn't reach the US even if they existed ... $100 Billion

    Cost of providing security against al-Qaeda attacking US from Iraq, even though they weren't there ... $400 Billion

    Cost of providing security against really obvious IRS forms that let people steal your money and assets easily ... $0.0005 Billion (of $500 million)

    Realizing you've been taken to the cleaners due to your own gullibility ... Priceless!
  • What a surprise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ZorbaTHut (126196) on Friday April 07, 2006 @05:03PM (#15087803) Homepage
    Here's a question. What does it cost the IRS if taxpayer data is stolen?

    Oh yeah. Squat. Why *should* they care? It's no skin off their back.

    If our government wanted to make sure this didn't happen, they'd fine the IRS every time there was a security breach. In fact, they'd fine the IRS just for having bad security. And then things would improve.

    'Course, in reality, why would they do that? There's no reason our government would want to hurt the IRS in any way.

    Really, what should be happening is the people of America suing the IRS for not guarding our information properly. I wonder how *that* lawsuit would go.

    Here's the fundamental issue: If you want someone to behave in a certain way, you have to make it worth their while. Right now the IRS has no incentive for keeping our info safe. Want to change that? Change it at the source.
    • Re:What a surprise (Score:4, Interesting)

      by TopShelf (92521) on Friday April 07, 2006 @05:23PM (#15087970) Homepage Journal
      The government fining the IRS? That's a laugh...

      That's basically taking a million out of one pocket and putting it in another. What's the point?

      • That's basically taking a million out of one pocket and putting it in another. What's the point?

        Well I suppose the IRS has a budget to follow, so it could still hurt the IRS.
        • Re:What a surprise (Score:3, Insightful)

          by TopShelf (92521)
          So the IRS's budget would get reduced, leaving them fewer resources to do their job (of which the scope won't change), so the situation gets worse... I don't see that fining the IRS would do any good.

          Instead, I'd put the heat on your local Congressman, as well as write to this gang [house.gov], who provides Congressional oversight to the IRS.

          Dig up egregious examples of conduct (in the article, it mentions an IRS contractor digging up political info on taxpayers), and write to your local newspaper.
          • So the IRS's budget would get reduced, leaving them fewer resources to do their job (of which the scope won't change), so the situation gets worse... I don't see that fining the IRS would do any good.

            I would expect both the Dems and our new Neo-con overlords to do exactly the opposite: problem with IRS security? Throw them more money.

        • Re:What a surprise (Score:4, Interesting)

          by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@gUUU ... inus threevowels> on Friday April 07, 2006 @05:33PM (#15088039) Homepage Journal
          To what end? Will we fine the IRS until they can't collect taxes?

          If you want to see the IRS punished, make heads roll when bad things happen. Which means things like:

          1. Management can be fired if a huge screwup happens
          2. Massive screwups can result in fines against management
          3. Charges can be brought against the parties responsible for the screwup

          Once their necks are on the line, you can be certain that the top level of IRS management will put pressure on the entire organization to prevent security issues.

          That being said, the IRS is likely suffering from the same problem as the rest of the goverment agencies: Too much work, not enough manpower/funding. Putting more pressure on the IRS may only result in making it harder to find IRS employees.
          • Too much work, not enough manpower/funding. Putting more pressure on the IRS may only result in making it harder to find IRS employees.

            If the tax laws were simple enough to be understood by mere mortals, they wouldn't need so much manpower to operate. For government offices in general, if they weren't so obsessed with paperwork, they wouldn't be stretched for resources.

    • If our government wanted to make sure this didn't happen, they'd fine the IRS every time there was a security breach. In fact, they'd fine the IRS just for having bad security. And then things would improve.

      Why do you think fining the IRS would make a difference? They are not a company, they do not care about profit and loss. Furthermore, the IRS is the government. Fining them would be like punishing your wallet by taking money out and keeping it in your pocket instead.

      If you really want to do something
    • Docterine of Soverign Immunity: the King can do no wrong.
      You can't sue the government.
    • "If our government wanted to make sure this didn't happen, they'd fine the IRS every time there was a security breach. In fact, they'd fine the IRS just for having bad security. And then things would improve."

      No problem, they will just raise the tax to 150% on income from fines given to the IRS. It will be a special tax schedule. :)
    • What do they get? They get MORE money. Now they need a budget to hire people to secure the data and keep it secure. That is going to cost millions! Getting a bad report card is just part of the game.
  • by American AC in Paris (230456) * on Friday April 07, 2006 @05:05PM (#15087817) Homepage
    Hey, a D- is a passing grade--what's wrong with that?

    I mean, wouldn't you much rather have a national government that was more like you, instead of some kind of intellectual-elite government scoring all "A"s? Better to have a government that understands people like you than a government that is out of touch with mainstream American values, I say!

    (Break out the hookers and blow! Party at Treasury!)

  • Sounds like we need a Department of Homeland Insecurity...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    No [nwsource.com] shit [zdnet.com] ? [techlawjournal.com]
  • by vtechpilot (468543) on Friday April 07, 2006 @05:15PM (#15087916)
    I work for a company that creates electronic filing software for the IRS, and I work with them on a regular basis. While Electronic filing has really only been popular the last few years its history goes back a very long time (in computer years). For example, currently to file a form 1040 electronically, it gets formatted in custom text format, attached to a whole bunch of other forms, gets all sorts of headers and summary information tacked on. It gets gzipped, then pushed through a z-modem connection over a telnet session, inside of an SSL connection. Why? Because it evolved that way. There was a time when electronic filing meant putting magnetic media in the mail. So the file formats go way back and are all fucked up because they are constantly updating the forms in respons to legislation. when they stopped with the magnetic media and started using modems, the whole thing was run like a BBS, so ta-da z-modem. When the bbs system was moved to the internet, it became telnet. Then they said oh shit its on the internet, we need encryption, so they moved that into an SSL connection.

    Case in point the whole system is fucked up because its doing things it was never designed to do. So now we introduce Modernized E-File. MEF is basically the IRS rebuilding its entire system from the ground up. File formats are getting moved to XML, the network connections are moving to SOAP, and all sorts of other cool stuff.

    Given the amound of stuff thats going on right now I would expect them to be scored poorly because basically the existing system is held together with duct tape while the new system is being built, and the new system probably wasn't considered in the score since its not completly up and running yet.
  • Old News (Score:2, Funny)

    by lynxpardinus (939498)
    We all knew this already. If a chick like Trinity could hack into the IRS... how good could their security be?
  • by truthsearch (249536) on Friday April 07, 2006 @05:21PM (#15087953) Homepage Journal
    Let's be fair here. Isn't a D-minus really an F? Let's not split hairs, people. If I got a C-minus my scholarship would have been dropped. Can't we drop them from the government for not even grading an average C?
  • What IRS data have "lawmakers" which are supposed to be people we elect to make decisions for us deemed important to homeland security? My income and work/education related expenditures aren't something I think of when I think of defending the homeland.
  • zerg (Score:3, Funny)

    by Lord Omlette (124579) on Friday April 07, 2006 @05:23PM (#15087968) Homepage
    In 2004, the Department of Commerce got an F.
    In 2005, the Department of Commerce got a D+.

    Clearly, they must have improved slightly. Why didn't anyone highlight these improvements to show the DOJ, NRC and Treasury that, even if you're completely retarded, you can still make some improvement?
  • Did any department pass?

    In other news, the department of agriculture passed with flying colors. Though they haven't figured it how to plug in their 486 yet, so it's not entirely a fair fight.
  • Defense gets an F? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Araxen (561411)
    It's pretty funny the department that gets the most funding gets a F grade. What a joke!

    Meanwhile NASA only gets a drop in the bucket.
  • I refuse to do my taxes via e-file. The having to use a third party program also doesn't help.
  • Will departments use low scores to justify increased budgets for security related projects? According to the article, the scores were reported by the departments themselves. Surely it will be easier for the IT supervisor of a "D-" departments to hire more security specialists than it will be for the IT supervisor of a "B+" department.
  • The problem is obviously the report cards. They got a D+ on a report card, which resulted in getting a D- on the next one. If they didn't give report cards, we wouldn't have to read news stories like this, which make us feel so bad. Instead we'd just read news about getting robbed after their ID was stolen from the IRS, making them unable to pay their taxes, and going to jail in place of the IDnappers.

    Or maybe the problem is the media, for reporting these stories which tell IDnappers where to look to steal
  • You are all fired. It is obvious that bringing in random people that don't even know what they are going can get at least a D-. Heck, sometimes I don't even show up for class and don't bother studying for the test and I can pull a D+.
  • by thepuma (721283) on Friday April 07, 2006 @05:41PM (#15088077) Homepage
    We need to get rid of the IRS altogether and replace it with the FairTax. [fairtax.org]

    The FairTax would replace the complex and difficult to understand federal income tax with a fair and simple national sales tax.

    Under the FairTax, Americans will take home 100% of their paychecks, allowing them to save more money for education and retirement, as well as make investments that will stimulate our economy. Not only will American workers take home their whole paychecks, each registered household will receive a monthly "prebate" check to refund taxes paid on necessities. This combination of sales tax and monthly prebate makes the FairTax the only tax proposal that completely "untaxes" the poor.

    The FairTax is revenue neutral. While the American worker has everything to gain under this new system of taxation, the government will lose nothing in federal funding.

    The current system of taxation is beyond repair. Compliance is difficult and expensive, often prohibitively so for aspiring small businesses.
    • Wow, from your description, this would be a boon to overseas e-commerce and Canadian border busineses. If you get sales tax whored at US businesses, then don't shop in the US. The government will be forced to pound the hell out of anyone who enters the country with goods.

      Also, Walmart would rule the world with this one. Their lower prices would now be significantally lower than the mom and pop shops, since the tax overhead is much higher. Also, that would give them much more say in government affiars since
      • Also, Walmart would rule the world with this one. Their lower prices would now be significantally lower than the mom and pop shops, since the tax overhead is much higher.

        I haven't worked it out yet, but it sounds false to me at first glance. Let's see if this is true.

        Let's say I make $100 under the current system. Immediately 30% is lopped off by the Federal government (give or take a little here and there) so I have $70 to buy stuff with.

        Let's say state sales tax is 6%

        If Wal-Mart has an item for $5 we'll

        • Just thought of something else. I'm not too up on the FairTax but isn't the plan to keep necessities tax-free like food? I know that's the case with groceries in my home state of Michigan with regards to state sales tax.

          Presuming that this is the case then let's run it again:

          $5/70 = 7.14% of my income.
          $5/100 = 5% of my income.

          $6/70 = 8.57% of my income.
          $6/100 = 6% of my income.

          5.00/7.14 = 70% of original felt price.
          6.00/8.57 = 70% of original felt price.

          Not working out in your favor on that one either...
        • At the mom-and-pop: (6.00 * 1.06 + 6.00 * 1.23) = $13.74. Then (13.74/100.00) = 13.74% of my take-home income.

          What are you, an idiot? The fairtax thing is 23%, not 129%.

        • As has been pointed out my tax calculations were dead wrong. Stupid mistake; I was doing it all on the fly. Let's try again:

          Now under FairTax the Feds would have a 23% sales tax.

          The final price at Wal-Mart (5.00 + 5.00 * 0.06 + 5.00 * 0.23) = $6.45. Then (6.45/100.00) = 6.45% of my take-home income.

          At the mom-and-pop: (6.00 + 6.00 * 0.06 + 6.00 * 0.23) = $7.74. Then (7.74/100.00) = 7.74% of my take-home income.

          Percentage increase at Wal-Mart is (6.45/7.57) = 85% of original felt price.
          Percentage incrase
          • It still does NOTHING to help out discount retailers or to even hurt them.

            Two guys walk up to you in a bar.
            Guy one says, "I make $50,000 and got a 10% raise. I hear you were pretty bad at applied math and are now living in a cardboard box, so I'm going to donate my 10% raise to you."
            Suddenly he is pushed aside by a guy in a McDonalds uniform, who says, "I only make $15,000 a year, but I flip burgers real good, and I too felt the rays of God and would like to donate my 10% raise to you. Also, I'll throw
        • I'm confused, is this simple real world example that hard to comprehend?

          at 6% now, 23% fair tax, 5$ at Walmart, 6$ at Mom&Pop

          now
          Mom&Pop = $6.36
          Walmart = $5.30
          difference = $1.06

          fair tax
          Mom&Pop = $7.38
          Walmart = $6.15
          difference = $1.23

          As the sales tax percentage goes up, the price difference goes up. People look at the prices of the products, not arcane crap like the percentage of take home pay and the increase over what the price used to be. The higher the tax goes, the bigger advant
          • As the sales tax percentage goes up, the price difference goes up. People look at the prices of the products, not arcane crap like the percentage of take home pay and the increase over what the price used to be.


            Calculating the cost of something based on what percentage isn't "arcane crap" -- that's the only thing that really matters when you're trying to consider whether or not you can afford something.
      • If you get sales tax whored at US businesses, then don't shop in the US. The government will be forced to pound the hell out of anyone who enters the country with goods.

        They already do that with duty checks and whatnot at the borders (paved ones anyway:) and its supposedly illegal to buy prescription drugs from foreign countries.

        I can see the fanfare now. "Buy American!" Its more expensive, and hey the stuff is probably not made in the US anyway, or if it is its foreign owned.
    • And in regards to this specific story, under the Fair Tax there wouldn't be an IRS, nor would any other government agency need comprehensive files about every single American that contain sufficient information to steal their identity.

      Hackers can't steal what isn't there.
    • We need to get rid of the IRS altogether and replace it with the FairTax.

      I love the fair tax, except I would want to make some changes. If you read through, they do a good job of telling why they picked levels of numbers, but they don't pick the numbers the way I would, and they are all arbitrary. The other thing I haven't seen addressed is fraud prevention. The government will be sending out somewhere around $13,000,000,000 per month in checks. I'm thinking that someone would think that would be a g
  • Personally, I think Japan has the better system of publish list of top 100 tax payer, how much they earn and how much they pay in tax, etc.

    The privacy of tax return had allowed too many tax loopholes and evasions to go un-notices. If tax returns are public, the transparancy and public outrage would ensure loopholes are plug and tax system remains fair.

    In the U.S. the finanacial accounting and tax accounting had been allowed to drifted away from each other. If public investors are allowed to see the tax r
  • Has it occured to anyone that perhaps DHS and the DoD get failing grades because they take different, more effective approaches to security than what's handed down by a beauracracy?
    • Has it occured to anyone that perhaps DHS and the DoD get failing grades because they take different, more effective approaches to security than what's handed down by a beauracracy?

      You sound like those parents who say "my child is failing because you don't know how to grade their work."

      At which point everyone looks at the parents and goes "Huh?"

      In an attempt to justify their statement, the parents explain how their child has a learning disability and while the kid can't spell, their grammar is excellent.

      If

  • Why should I pay for this data

    http://usgovinfo.about.com/b/a/217091.htm [about.com]

    when I get get it for free, then?

  • If it's mandatory, then if a department's staff fail, they should be let go. Mandatory means "this is what you need to do". Mandatory isn't a choice. If it's the fault of IT staffers, sack the staffers. If it's the fault of management, sack the management. Do what it takes to meet mandatory requirements and cut out the dead wood.

    That's if it's mandatory. If it's optional, then they don't need to meet the standards and all is well with the world. But if it IS optional, then the Government should state so and

  • Entire report card (Score:2, Informative)

    by flooey (695860)
    For those interested, the entire report card is available here [house.gov].
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Funny that this post should come up today. This Wednesday, I finally got around to doing my taxes, so I went to the IRS website and clicked on one of their endorsed partners to receive my free online tax submission.

    Everything was going fine until I filled out the address of my employer from my W2. On the W2, it was listed as "Comptroller's Office, SoAndSo Corp.". So I typed that in, verbatim, to the website. Surprise of surprises, I got back an ASP debugging page saying that an SQL syntax error had occu

  • And please correct me if I got anything wrong here. The agencies themselves send in reports. Not some "mystery shopper" guy checking their security, but they hand their reports in themselves.

    And they STILL fail?

    Scary to think that they're even too dumb to cheat.
  • There were four stories today on Slashdot about U.S. government corruption, and one about the government functioning as it should:

    This one: IRS Leaves Taxpayer Data Largely Unprotected [slashdot.org]. If the IRS is denied the computer equipment it needs, there is more money for the government corrupters to steal.

    Former BSA VP Confirmed as Tech Undersecretary [slashdot.org]. Another unqualified person is appointed to influence U.S. technology.

    FCC Opens Flood Gates for Junk Faxes [slashdot.org]. "Under the new rules, a junk faxer could visit
  • It's good to know that when other government agencies are starting to become increasingly paranoid, there is one that values keeping their records available to the public.
  • The report card (Score:3, Informative)

    by OldManAndTheC++ (723450) on Friday April 07, 2006 @07:42PM (#15088705)
    The full report card [house.gov] is certainly interesting, especially since those agencies that have high profiles in national security matters (Defense, State, Homeland Security) all received an "F". Department of Justice (think FBI, DEA), and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission fared about as poorly with a "D-".

    The Social Security Administration scored an "A". As I recall they were also one of the first federal agencies to complete their work on the Y2K project. Score another one for monolithic bureacracies over fragmented bureaucracies :)

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