OPM announces steps to protect workers from cyber threats

By Office of Personnel Management press releaseJuly 14, 2015

OPM announces steps to protect workers from cyber threats
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management, or OPM, identified a cybersecurity incident potentially affecting personnel data for current and former federal employees. OPM announced the results of the interagency forensics investigation into the recent c... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 13, 2015) -- The U.S. Office of Personnel Management, or OPM, has announced the results of the interagency forensics investigation into a recent cyber incident involving federal background investigation data and the steps it is taking to protect those impacted.

Throughout this investigation, OPM has been committed to providing information in a timely, transparent and accurate manner. As information has become available and verifiable, the agency has updated Congress, the inspector general, federal employee representatives, and - most importantly - those that are affected. This announcement is the latest in this series of updates, and OPM will continue to provide additional information going forward.


Since the end of 2013, OPM has undertaken an aggressive effort to upgrade the agency's cybersecurity posture, adding numerous tools and capabilities to its various legacy networks. As a direct result of these steps, OPM was able to identify two separate but related cybersecurity incidents on its systems.

OPM announced the results of the interagency forensic investigation into the second incident. As previously announced, in late-May 2015, as a result of ongoing efforts to secure its systems, OPM discovered an incident affecting background investigation records of current, former and prospective federal employees and contractors.

Following the conclusion of the forensics investigation, OPM has determined that the types of information in these records include identification details such as social security numbers; residency and educational history; employment history; information about immediate family and other personal and business acquaintances; health, criminal and financial history; and other details.

Some records also include findings from interviews conducted by background investigators and fingerprints. Usernames and passwords, which background investigation applicants used to fill out their background investigation forms, were also stolen.

While background investigation records do contain some information regarding mental health and financial history provided by those that have applied for a security clearance and by individuals contacted during the background investigation, there is no evidence that separate systems that store information regarding the health, financial, payroll and retirement records of federal personnel were impacted by this incident (for example, annuity rolls, retirement records, USA JOBS, Employee Express).

This incident is separate but related to a previous incident, discovered in April 2015, affecting personnel data for current and former federal employees. OPM and its interagency partners concluded with a high degree of confidence that personnel data for 4.2 million individuals had been stolen. This number has not changed since it was announced by OPM in early June, and OPM has worked to notify all of these individuals and ensure that they are provided with the appropriate support and tools to protect their personal information.


Since learning of the incident affecting background investigation records, OPM and the interagency incident response team have moved swiftly and thoroughly to assess the breach, analyze what data may have been stolen, and identify those individuals who may be affected.

The team has now concluded with high confidence that sensitive information, including the social security numbers of 21.5 million individuals, was stolen from the background investigation databases. This includes 19.7 million individuals that applied for a background investigation, and 1.8 million non-applicants, predominantly spouses or co-habitants of applicants. As noted, some records also include findings from interviews conducted by background investigators and approximately 1.1 million include fingerprints.

There is no information at this time to suggest any misuse or further dissemination of the information that was stolen from OPM's systems.

If an individual underwent a background investigation through OPM in 2000 or afterwards (which occurs through the submission of forms SF 86, SF 85, or SF 85P for a new investigation or periodic reinvestigation), it is highly likely that the individual is impacted by this cyber breach. If an individual underwent a background investigation before 2000, that individual still may be impacted, but it is less likely.


OPM is also announcing the steps it is taking to protect those impacted:

1. Providing a comprehensive suite of monitoring and protection services for background investigation applicants and non-applicants, whose Social Security numbers, and in many cases other sensitive information, were stolen.

For the 21.5 million background investigation applicants, spouses or co-habitants with Social Security Numbers and other sensitive information that was stolen from OPM databases, OPM and the Department of Defense will work with a private-sector firm specializing in credit and identity theft monitoring to provide services such as:

• Full service identity restoration support and victim recovery assistance

• Identity theft insurance

• Identity monitoring for minor children

• Continuous credit monitoring

• Fraud monitoring services beyond credit files

The protections in this suite of services are tailored to address potential risks created by this particular incident, and will be provided for a period of at least three years, at no charge. In the coming weeks, OPM will begin to send notification packages to these individuals, which will provide details on the incident and information on how to access these services.

OPM will also provide educational materials and guidance to help them prevent identity theft, better secure their personal and work-related data, and become more generally informed about cyber threats and other risks presented by malicious actors.

2. Helping other individuals, who had other information included on background investigation forms:

Beyond background investigation applicants and their spouses or co-habitants described above, there are other individuals, whose name, address, date of birth, or other similar information may have been listed on a background investigation form, but whose Social Security numbers are not included. These individuals could include immediate family members or other close contacts of the applicant.

In many cases, the information about these individuals is the same as information generally available in public forums, such as online directories or social media, and therefore the compromise of this information generally does not present the same level of risk of identity theft or other issues.

The notification package, which will be sent to background investigation applicants, will include detailed information that the applicant can provide to individuals he or she may have listed on a background investigation form. This information will explain the types of data that may have been included on the form, best practices they can exercise to protect themselves, and the resources publicly available to address questions or concerns.

3. Establishing an online cybersecurity incident resource center:

OPM launched a new, online incident resource center to offer information regarding the OPM incidents as well as direct individuals to materials, training, and useful information on best practices to secure data, protect against identity theft, and stay safe online. This resource site will be regularly updated with the most recent information about both the personnel records and background investigation incidents, responses to frequently asked questions, and tools that can help guard against emerging cyber threats.

4. Establishing a call center to respond to questions:

In the coming weeks, a call center will be opened to respond to questions and provide more information. Individuals will not be able to receive personalized information until notifications begin and the call center is opened. OPM recognizes that it is important to be able to provide individual assistance to those that reach out with questions, and will work with its partners to establish this call center as quickly as possible.

5. Protecting all federal employees:

In the coming months, the administration will work with federal employee representatives and other stakeholders to develop a proposal for the types of credit and identity theft monitoring services that should be provided to all federal employees in the future - regardless of whether they have been affected by this incident - to ensure their personal information is always protected.


OPM continues to take aggressive action to strengthen its broader cyber defenses and information technology (IT) systems, in partnership with experts from DOD, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and its other interagency partners.

As outlined in its recent Cybersecurity Action Report, in June, OPM identified 15 new steps to improve security, leverage outside expertise, modernize its systems, and ensure internal accountability in its cyber practices. This includes completing deployment of two-factor strong authentication for all users, expanding continuous monitoring of its systems, and hiring a new cybersecurity advisor.

OPM's director has initiated a comprehensive review of the architectural design of OPM's IT systems, to identify and immediately mitigate any other vulnerabilities that may exist, and assess OPM's data sharing and use policies. That review is ongoing.

In addition, OPM will also continue to participate in a federal government-wide 30-day cybersecurity sprint, whereby immediate steps are being taken to further protect information and assets and improve the resilience of federal networks, and will participate in a 90-day interagency review of key questions related to information security, governance, policy, and other aspects of this the security and suitability determination process, to ensure that it is conducted in the most efficient, effective and secure manner possible.

The Office of Personnel Management is committed to protecting the safety and security of the information of federal employees and contractors. OPM is also committed to helping those that have been impacted by this incident, safeguarding its systems and data, and fulfilling its mission to serve federal workers.

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