(Bloomberg News) -- The U.S. Office of Personnel Management fends off an average of 10 million hacking attempts a month and the attacks will increase, the agency’s director told a House committee in testimony for a Washington hearing Tuesday.
“Government and non-government entities are under constant attack by evolving and advanced persistent threats and criminal actors,” Katherine Archuleta said in testimony released by the committee before the hearing.
The hearing is the first in Congress since OPM disclosed hackers had breached its networks. Archuleta portrayed the detection of the attacks as a successful example of improved security monitoring by the agency.
The agency initially said hackers stole records on more than 4 million current and former federal employees. On June 12, however, White House officials said the same hackers may have accessed a second set of records, including information related to background checks for workers to obtain security clearances.
“We discovered these intrusions because of our increased efforts in the last eighteen months to improve cybersecurity at OPM, not despite them,” Archuleta said.
The Obama administration said in a statement that the second potential breach included “prospective federal employees, and those for whom a federal background investigation was conducted,” a description that may cover contractors and people considered for jobs who weren’t hired.
Hackers could have accessed data tied to 14 million people, more than triple the total disclosed by OPM, according to a lawmaker briefed on the investigation who asked not to be identified discussing classified information.
Bloomberg News previously reported that records on background investigations were accessed by hackers.
Many more people besides government employees are at risk of having their personal information compromised as a result of the breach, said Brian Kaveney, a partner with Armstrong Teasdale LLP in St. Louis who heads the firm’s security and facility clearance team.
Applicants for security clearances -- who submit 127-page forms that also may have been hacked -- list information for people used as references. That means people with no connection to the government may also have their credit and personal information at risk after the breaches, he said.
“This means your pastor, your best friend, your mother, all their credit info and personal info is at risk,” Kaveney said in a phone interview. “We’re not just talking about the 4 million government employees. You have to multiply it by all the people listed on their clearance forms.”
Other witnesses called to testify include Donna Seymour, OPM’s chief information officer; Tony Scott, U.S. chief information officer; and Sylvia Burns, chief information officer for the Interior Department, where OPM’s data was hosted.
Burns said in prepared testimony for the hearing that the hackers had access to all information stored in the Interior Department’s data center, meaning the attack potentially compromised records from other agencies beyond OPM. However, the investigation so far hasn’t found data from other agencies was stolen, she said. She also said the hackers used “very sophisticated tactics,” without elaborating.
Archuleta and Homeland Security Department Secretary Jeh Johnson are scheduled to provide all House members a classified briefing later Tuesday.
Separately, the Department of Homeland Security said on Monday that as many as 390,000 current and former DHS employees, contractors and job applicants potentially had their data compromised in another hacking attack last year. The hackers breached a contractor’s network, DHS spokesman S.Y. Lee said in a statement.
“To date, no nefarious activity associated with this potential intrusion has been observed,” Lee said. “We are committed to ensuring our employees’ privacy and take very seriously our responsibility to protect sensitive data in background investigations.”
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