Up To Date Cyber Security News:

June 4, 2012 5:31PM

Hackers broke into the computer networks of the U.S. government personnel office and stole identifying information of at least 4 million federal workers, officials said Thursday.

"The FBI is conducting an investigation to identify how and why this occurred," the statement said.The Department of Homeland Security  aid in a statement that data from the Office of Personnel Management and the Interior Department had been compromised.

A U.S. official who declined to be identified said the data breach could potentially affect every federal agency. One key question is whether intelligence agency employee information was stolen.


Ken Ammon, chief strategy officer of Xceedium, a government security contractor, said the attack fit the pattern of those conducted by "nation states." In the world of data-stealing cyberattacks, that phrase typically refers to either Russia or China.


"This is an attack against the nation," Ammon said, because the information could be used to impersonate or blackmail federal employees with access to sensitive information.

In November, a former DHS contractor disclosed another cyberbreach that compromised the private files of more than 25,000 DHS workers and thousands of other federal employees.The Office of Personnel Management is the human resources department for the federal government, and it conducts background checks for security clearances. The OPM conducts more than 90 percent of federal background investigations, according to its website.


DHS said its intrusion detection system, known as EINSTEIN, which screens federal Internet traffic to identify potential cyber threats, identified the hack of OPM's systems and the Interior Department's data center, which is shared by other federal agencies.


"DHS is continuing to monitor federal networks for any suspicious activity and is working aggressively with the affected agencies to conduct investigative analysis to assess the extent of this alleged intrusion," the statement said.


Members of Congress were briefed on the breach earlier Thursday.

Ammon said federal agencies are rushing to install two-factor authentication with smart cards, a system designed to make it harder for intruders to access networks. But implementing that technology takes time.Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, called the hack "shocking, because Americans may expect that federal computer networks are maintained with state of the art defenses."


Associated Press