Sticky Hands of American Federal Employees
Americans love porn, and federal employees are no different. Unlike most Americans, however, federal employees use computers that are closely monitored by the government, which means the likelihood of getting caught with your hand in the proverbial cookie jar rises considerably. Although many individual government agencies have hard and fast rules in place to prevent federal employees from watching porn at work, they're not enforced properly.
An Interior Department watchdog recommended that the U.S. Geological Survey ratchet up internet security protocols after discovering its networks had been infected with malware from pornography sites.
The agency’s Inspector General traced the malicious software to a single unnamed USGS employee, who reportedly used a government-issued computer to visit some 9,000 adult video sites between Sept. 26, 2016 and March 13, 2017, according to a report published Nov. 20. That averages out to roughly 79 different porn sites every business day.
The resulting malware made it harder for the agency to monitor network vulnerabilities and automatically connected USGS systems to malicious Russian websites, according to a redacted inspector general report published Tuesday. The code also created a covert pathway bad actors could use to steal information from USGS, though investigators found no evidence that any data was transferred. The investigation found the employee saved much of the pornographic material on an unauthorized USB drive and personal Android cellphone, both of which were connected to the computer against agency protocols. The employee’s cell phone was also infected with malware.
The employee, who held a GS-12 position at a satellite imaging facility in Sioux Falls, SD, retired from USGS the day before he was supposed to be fired, according to the report.
He eventually admitted to investigators that he’d “routinely” viewed adult content at work “for many years.”
“Though the introduction of unauthorized devices was intentional, we found no evidence that the employee intended to infect government systems with malware, or that he knew it was there,” investigators wrote in the report.
The department’s rules of behavior explicitly prohibit employees from using government networks for viewing pornography and other inappropriate activities, and the IG found the employee had agreed to these rules “several years prior to detection.” Once downloaded to his computer, the malware spread across the USGS network, they said. The infection came to light during a routine audit of the facility’s IT security, when inspectors discovered servers were trying to connect to IP addresses affiliated with the former Soviet Union.
In a prior report, auditors recommended the USGS more closely monitor employees’ web browsing and enforce blacklists of prohibited websites. They said proactively identifying and blocking adult websites “will likely enhance preventative countermeasures.” They also advised the agency to strengthen its IT security policies to stop employees from connecting personal devices to government computers, which could propagate malware on federal networks.
USGS immediately took action to address the vulnerabilities once they were discovered, acting Public Affairs Officer Karen Armstrong told Nextgov.
This isn’t the first time federal employees have been caught browsing explicit content at the workplace. Over the last 15 years, similar scandals have enveloped the Environmental Protection Agency, Securities and Exchange Commission and IRS.
In 2014, a Federal Communications Commission employee indulged in some pornographic me-time for eight hours per week because “he was bored.” Also in 2014, investigators alleged that a Treasury Department employee viewed more than 13,000 pornographic images in a six-week span while at work. “He stated he is aware it is against government rules and regulations, but he often does not have enough work to do and has free time,” they said.
Between 2005 and 2010, multiple employees of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission repeatedly visited porn sites “as the financial system the agency has a hand in overseeing teetered and almost collapsed.” One of the SEC executives spent eight hours a day surfing porn sites. When he completely stuffed his hard disk with obscene images and videos, he began to record porn on removable drives, which accumulated several hundred. One of the financiers visited porn sites up to 16,000 times a month. When he was denied access, he found a way to bypass the lock and continued to do the same.
Dozens of federal workers — including employees of the Department of Justice and U.S. Senate — were busted after setting up accounts on DigitalPlayground.com using their .gov and .mil email addresses in 2012.
Workers at the Minerals Management Service accepted gifts from oil companies, smoked methamphetamine and enjoyed porn, according to a 2010 report by the Department of the Interior. These are the same officials who were responsible for overseeing drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, which, um, didn't end so well.
The Washington Times reported in 2009 that “one senior [National Science Foundation] executive spent at least 331 days looking at pornography on his government computer and chatting online with nude or partially clad women without being detected.”
A second National Science Foundation employee, when investigators asked him how much government work he completed on a day of particularly vigorous porn-watching, responded with, “Um, I can't remember.”
2009, it seems, was just bursting with starry-eyed federal porn fiends: John A. Latschar, then the superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park, was caught using his office computer to search for and look at over 3,400 graphic images in a two-year period.