Millions Of Government Employees Impacted By Data Breach On U.S.

The U.S. government said Thursday that it suspects China-based hackers have broken into government computer networks, in what may be one of the biggest breaches in history, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) said in a recently released statement that the identification information of at least 4 million federal workers has been compromised.

"Protecting our Federal employee data from malicious cyber incidents is of the highest priorities at OPM,’ said OPM Director Katherine Archuleta in a statement. ’We take very seriously our responsibility to secure the information stored in our systems, and in coordination with our agency partners, our experienced team is constantly identifying opportunities to further protect the data with which we are entrusted.’

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The Department of Homeland Security said it concluded in the beginning of May that the information was stolen, according to the Wall Street Journal. According to The Journal, China called the government's allegations "irresponsible and unscientific."

The OPM has warned potential victims to monitor their financial statements and get new credit reports. Meanwhile, the department has instituted additional network security precautions as a result of the breach.

Those measures include restricting both remote access for network administrators and network administration functions, reviewing all connections to ensure that only those that are legitimate have access to the Internet, and deploying antimalware software across the ecosystem to prevent the deployment of tools that could compromise the system network.

Charles King, an analyst with market research firm Pund-IT, said that the government needs to take a more defensive stance in implementing these tight policies to protect networks exposed to the Web, and employ functions like multifactor authentication to help secure files from external hacks.

"My general feeling is one of frustration with the federal agencies involved," said King. "While the feds are correcting the issue by deploying more stringent administrator rules, they are proceeding slowly and initially focusing on 'high value' agencies. This latest attack could, and should, result in a fundamental reassessment of this approach."

According to its website, the Office of Personnel Management acts as the human resources department for the government, and conducts more than 90 percent of federal background investigations of employees.

While the OPM is working to implement new, restrictive measures, the 4 million government employees whose background checks were obtained are still under risk, said Dan Lohrmann, chief security officer of Security Mentor, a Pacific Grove, Calif.-based company that provides security training to small and large businesses, and the government.

’The data that was reportedly stolen, including social security numbers, bank account data and other data that is found in background checks, will affect those impacted for much more than the 18-months of credit protection that is reportedly being offered by OPM…. the 4 million current and former government employees may need to be on-guard for the rest of their lives," stated Lohrmann in an email. "Also, since former employees were reportedly involved, it will likely be very difficult for OPM to reach all of these people quickly – with wrong addresses and contact information being likely in some cases.’

Moving forward, the employees impacted will need to keep tabs on their bank-statement transactions, look for fraudulent credit lines being opened in their names and make sure that their accounts take advantage of two-factor authentication, said Lohrmann.

Douglas Grosfield, president and CEO of Xylotech Solutions, a Cambridge, Ontario-based solution provider, said the lack of urgency that many companies feel about security is "frightening."

"It’s a difficult discussion to have because the solution is often not inexpensive," he said. "Security is a layered approach, and it is much more than having any software or firewall on your network. You have to consider things like data leakage protection, and educating your users on processes. The proliferation of malware and phishing attacks is amazing, and the reality is companies can't catch everything all the time."