The US Office of Personnel Management recently announced they were hacked by cyber thieves who, over the course of more than a year, stole approximately 21.5 million Social Security Numbers, over 1.1 million fingerprints, and the security clearance applications of over 19.7 million people. This is a massive and unprecedented hack that will cause national security issues and other problems for years to come.
Here is what we know, and what you can do if your personal information was among the stolen data.
Who is Impacted by this Data Breach
If you had a security clearance application and background check during or after the year 2000, you are most likely affected. It’s also possible you may be affected if your security clearance application was processed prior to the year 2000.
According to the Office of Personnel Management,
“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 prior to 2000, that individual still may be impacted, but it is less likely.” (source).
What Information Was Stolen
The stolen data was found on form SF 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, which is the Security Clearance application form. This is the background check used for security clearance applications.If you have ever filled out one of these forms, you know it contains a lot of personal information, including your full name, date of birth, Social Security Number, current address, and former addresses. This is everything someone needs to steal your identity, open up bank accounts, take out a line of credit in your name, etc.
But that’s not the worst part.
The hackers also have personal data from family members if that information was included on your security clearance application. That means they could also have the names, birthdays, SSNs, and other personal information for your family members. There are also references for people who knew you at your former addresses, such as other family members, former coworkers, neighbors, etc. Altogether, the SF-86 contains over 100 pages of personal information.
And all of this information is now in the hands of criminals, or more likely, a foreign government.
Who Hacked the OPM System?
Right now, authorities suspect the Chinese government to be behind the data breach. If that is the case, then it’s possible they are looking for specific information, including background information on high-level officials and others who handle the most sensitive information. Authorities believe the breach first occurred in late 2013, and extended into April of 2015 before it was discovered and the security breach was patched.
How Will This Impact Those Whose Info Was Stolen?
What a great question. Unfortunately, it’s too soon to tell what the fall out will be. There primary concern is national security. The security clearance applications contain a ton of personal information for people at the highest levels of our government. But they also contain the information from rank and file, including military members, government civilians, contractors, and others who need a security clearance in order to do their jobs. The assumption is a foreign government took this information to spy on our government and it’s employees. But there is nothing stopping these hackers from doing things to individuals or selling this information on the open market.
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself
The best thing you can do is monitor your personal information, including your credit profile, bank accounts, and other personal information. The government is offering credit monitoring protection for government employees whose information was stolen. This is a starting point, but it doesn’t address all possible issues. You can learn more about this program here.
For now, I have taken it upon myself to purchase my own identity theft protection. The plan I purchased offers assistance in cleaning up any ID theft problems that occur while I’m enrolled in the program. You can also put a credit freeze on your Social Security Number, which will prevent someone from applying for credit with your name and SSN. Unfortunately, the above protections only help protect your finances. They do nothing to address the other information that was taken, including your current address, personal information for your family members, etc.
A sign of things to come? Hacking and cyber-crime is a growing problem, and unfortunately, it won’t be going away any time soon. My recommendation is to be as careful as you can with your personal information.