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The U.S. Office of Personnel Management is sleeping at the switch

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September 2, 2015

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Almost 90 days after the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) discovered its databases had been breached by Chinese hackers, the U.S. government still hasn't notified its employees and its various contractors affected by the security attack.

Yesterday, the OPM said it planned to start the process of informing the security victims "later this month," and that reaching everyone is expected to take several weeks.

The Department of Defense will send notifications directly to affected people by postal mail, the agency said.

"Overall, millions of individuals, through no fault of their own, had their personal information stolen or misappropriated, and we're strongly committed to stand by them, supporting them, and protecting them against further mischief," OPM acting director Beth Cobert said in a statement, adding, "And as someone whose own information was stolen, I completely understand the concern and frustration people are feeling."

The OPM first noticed the hacking incidents in early June 2015, although it was later determined that the attackers had probably been slurping data from the agency's systems for more than a year.

At first, it was thought that around four million individuals' records had been affected. But after a second leak was discovered, the total number eventually ballooned to 21.5 million.

Nearly all of them are still waiting to be notified as to whether they were affected, and just how much damage was caused and in what category.

Among the sensitive information that is thought to have leaked are records of Standard Form 86, an exhaustive questionnaire designed for people who are requesting security clearances.

It covers just about every personal and financial detail about each applicant, including marital status, full employment records, criminal and sensitive health documents.

Of course, many of the people whose information is now in the hands of the hackers – who are believed to have ties to the Chinese government – are currently employed in sensitive positions at various levels of the U.S. government and the military, making this particular data breach especially critical.

Also yesterday, the OPM said it has secured a contract with a company to provide identity theft protection and monitoring services for everyone affected by the breach.

Identity Theft Guard Solutions, doing business as ID Experts, will provide these services for free to victims and their dependent children under the age of 18 for a period of up to three years.

The total cost of the contract to the government will be $133,263,550 OPM said. By comparison, it earlier asked Congress for $21 million to secure the systems that allowed the leak.

Anyone who's worried that they may be among those whose information has been snatched can find more information and sign up for email alerts on the OPM website.

Source: The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM)

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