Welcome to the year of the hack. That breach of the Office of Personnel Management’s systems by what government officials are saying was a hack by China may have much wider repercussions than previously assumed. It wasn’t just names and titles of federal employees that have been compromised. The hack may also have exposed the social security numbers and addresses of many friends and family members listed on forms intended to assist OPM in pursuing background checks for security clearances—a potentially critical piece of information for a Chinese intelligence service trying to piece together the network of relations of U.S. government employees with access to classified information. ABC News has the scoop:
OPM insists the information compromised by the intrusion into its systems does “not [include] the names of family members.”
“Family members of employees were not affected by this breach,” OPM says on its website.
However, U.S. officials speaking on the condition of anonymity say unequivocally such information was put at serious risk by the OPM hack. Of utmost concern are U.S. employees stationed overseas, including in countries such as China, whose government would covet personal information on relatives and contacts of American officials living in the communist country, according to officials.
“If the SF-86’s associated with this hack were, in their entirety, part of the stolen information, then that would mean the potential release of a staggering amount of information, affecting an exponential amount of people,” one U.S. official told ABC News on Sunday.
Acting as the government’s human resources division, OPM conducts about 90 percent of background investigations for the federal government. Information from SF-86 forms dating back three decades could have been exposed in the cyber-attack, which the U.S. government strongly suspects was carried out by hackers in China, sources said.
It’s the average citizen that has the most to lose as the full implications of cyber insecurity begin reverberating across society. It isn’t just our own NSA Big Brother who is watching anymore; other actors with far more malevolent designs, and over whom we have little-to-no sway, are at it as well. As we said at the beginning of the year, “all those dewy eyed techno-optimists who thought that the internet was going to end dictatorships, cut government down to size, and usher in the reign of universal peace are now waking up to a brave new world.” Welcome to the new normal.