Almost as if to spite the NSA’s expansion of its Internet “defense” program, or spying to the rest of us, a major data breach at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has led to the leaking of the social security numbers, and other personal data, of 4.1 million US citizens.
The data breach which began late last year is thought to be the largest theft of government data in the history of the United States.
The level of data gathered is somewhat astounding, though previously denied by the OPM, it is now thought to contain the Standard Form 85 and 86 of all employees who had to fill them out since the 1980s.
The forms are filled out by those applying for positions that require higher security clearance and these are no one page checklists.
SF 86 is 127 pages long and includes details about highly personal information, including foreign travel (page 4), any mental health conditions (page 84), police record (page 86), history of drug use (page 93), or bankruptcy filings (page 106).
The leaking of these forms means that information about the families of those who filled them out has been attained as well, including those of people who filled out the forms and did not get the job they applied for.
As further investigation into the data breach was carried out, the worrying news came that the attacks came from China.
While it is not yet known whether the breach was state sponsored, the Chinese government has been less than cooperative with the investigation.
When the allegations were first being made, Chinese embassy spokesman Zhu Haiquan stated that “Jumping to conclusions and making [a] hypothetical accusation is not responsible,” and is “counterproductive.”
However, it has now been confirmed that the attacks originated within Chinese borders.
Former counter-intelligence officer John Schindler has had a lot to say about the data breach.
“Whoever now holds OPM’s records possess something like the Holy Grail from a [counter-intelligence] perspective,” he said.
“They can target Americans in their database for recruitment or influence.
After all, they know their vices, every last one — the gambling habit, the inability to pay bills on time, the spats with former spouses, the taste for something sexual on the side perhaps with someone of a different gender than your normal partner — since all that is recorded in security clearance paperwork.”
He finished by saying: “We’re not serious about stemming foreign espionage, and now that neglect has caused serious pain that will last decades. Some of the damage may not be repairable, ever.”
Schindler definitely makes a strong point.
Many have called the US cyber security program as lacking focus and being outdated.
This is just the latest in a string of breaches that have hit US government department, and unless things change, I’ll bet it won’t be the last.
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