Biometrics compromised in OPM breach

September 29, 2015 Arctic Wolf Networks

The federal government has a number of valuable data sources, making this sector a major potential target for cyberattacks. In one of the biggest hacks in U.S. history, the Office of Personnel Management experienced a sustained assault that compromised the data of 22 million current and former federal employees. While a number of personal details were exposed by this breach, new information has come to light that shows that this hack was worse than previously thought.

Fingerprint data taken by attackers
Physical characteristics are unique to each individual, which is why fingerprints are becoming the next step in ensuring that assets are secure. However, what happens when this type of data is stolen? Not only can hackers utilize it to gain access into other critical areas, but it also increases the chances for identity theft. Originally, it was believed that 1.1 million fingerprints were stolen in the OPM breach, but it was recently revealed that 5.6 million were compromised, five times the number previously estimated, according to The Washington Post.

The question then, is how can such a large security breach occur? In a review of the record theft, the OPM and the Department of Defense discovered the additional exposure of fingerprint data. Not only has this oversight further affected victims of the breach, but it is also damaging the confidence in OPM to handle the situation appropriately.

Potential fallout for workers
If a government employee has their fingerprint data stolen, what are they to do? As Government Executive pointed out, unlike other sets of data, there's no way to reissue a fingerprint – it's a part of that person. Because this information is utilized as part of two-factor authentication measures, having it available along with worker logins can allow hackers to get into other sensitive information. Although the CIA keeps separate logs from OPM, there are numerous other agencies that have records with the OPM, and their staff members are at risk as long they work for the government. Unfortunately, the government is now exposed to even greater incidents of fraud or theft with the theft of this data.

"It's probably the biggest counterintelligence threat in my lifetime," said Jim Penrose, former chief of the Operational Discovery Center at the National Security Agency. "There's no situation we've had like this before, the compromise of our fingerprints. And it doesn't have any easy remedy or fix in the world of intelligence."

Preparing for cyberattacks
The hack on OPM shows not only that everyone is vulnerable, but that there are serious consequences when the proper protections aren't in place. Although the exposure of personal data can be damaging, the stolen fingerprint data has the potential to truly put lives at risk and further compromise national security. In order to avoid this fallout, organizations should look to security incident event management (SIEM) solutions. Cybersecurity threats are constantly evolving, and security solutions must also continuously adapt to remain effective.  One option that has recently come to market is a managed SIEM solution where security experts use state of the art technology solutions to monitor the network for suspicious activity. They will then alert staff right away and provide specific actions to address any cybersecurity issues that may appear. This type of information can be critical not only for handling the situation quickly, but also for making an accurate assessment of any breaches that may have occurred. As threats become more sophisticated, it will be essential for businesses to invest in a SIEM solution to protect themselves and their sensitive information.

Cybersecurity news and analysis brought to you by Arctic Wolf, leading provider of managed SIEM services.

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