Government officials have been vague in their testimony about the data breaches—there was apparently more than one—at the Office of Personnel Management. But on Thursday, officials from OPM, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of the Interior revealed new information that indicates at least two separate systems were compromised by attackers within OPM’s and Interior’s networks. The first was the Electronic Official Personnel Folder (eOPF) system, an entity hosted for OPM at the Department of the Interior’s shared service data center. The second was the central database behind EPIC, the suite of software used by OPM’s Federal Investigative Service in order to collect data for government employee and contractor background investigations.
OPM has not yet revealed the full extent of the data exposed by the attack, but initial actions by the agency in response to the breaches indicate information g as many as 3.2 million federal employees (both current federal employees and retirees) was exposed. However, new estimates in light of this week’s revelations have soared, estimating as many as 14 million people in and outside government will be affected by the breach—including uniformed military and intelligence personnel. It is, essentially, the biggest potential “doxing” in history. And if true, personal details from nearly everyone who works for the government in some capacity may now be in the hands of a foreign government. This fallout is the culmination of years of issues such as reliance on outdated software and contracting large swaths of security work elsewhere (including China).
The OPM breaches themselves are cause for major concerns, but there are signs that these are not isolated incidents. “We see supporting evidence that these attacks are related to the group that launched the attack on Anthem [the large health insurer breached earlier this year],” said Tom Parker, chief technology officer of the information security company FusionX. “And there was a breach at United Airlines that’s potentially correlated as well.” When pulled together into an analytical database, the information could essentially become a LinkedIn for spies, providing a foreign intelligence organization with a way to find individuals with the right job titles, the right connections, and traits that might make them more susceptible to recruitment or compromise.
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