OPM IT Outsourced to Foreigner Contractors, with Root Access, Working from their Home Country. In this Case, Oh Yeah, ChinaPosted: June 17, 2015
Encryption ‘would not have helped’ at OPM, says DHS official: Attackers had valid user credentials and run of network, bypassing security
Sean Gallagher reports: During testimony today in a grueling two-hour hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director Katherine Archuleta claimed that she had recognized huge problems with the agency’s computer security when she assumed her post 18 months ago. But when pressed on why systems had not been protected with encryption prior to the recent discovery of an intrusion that gave attackers access to sensitive data on millions of government employees and government contractors, she said, “It is not feasible to implement on networks that are too old.” She added that the agency is now working to encrypt data within its networks.
But even if the systems had been encrypted, it likely wouldn’t have mattered. Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity Dr. Andy Ozment testified that encryption would “not have helped in this case” because the attackers had gained valid user credentials to the systems that they attacked—likely through social engineering. And because of the lack of multifactor authentication on these systems, the attackers would have been able to use those credentials at will to access systems from within and potentially even from outside the network.
House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told Archuleta and OPM Chief Information Officer Donna Seymour, “You failed utterly and totally.” He referred to OPM’s own inspector general reports and hammered Seymour in particular for the 11 major systems out of 47 that had not been properly certified as secure—which were not contractor systems but systems operated by OPM’s own IT department. “They were in your office, which is a horrible example to be setting,” Chaffetz told Seymour. In total, 65 percent of OPM’s data was stored on those uncertified systems.
Chaffetz pointed out in his opening statement that for the past eight years, according to OPM’s own Inspector General reports, “OPM’s data security posture was akin to leaving all your doors and windows unlocked and hoping nobody would walk in and take the information.”
When Chaffetz asked Archuleta directly about the number of people who had been affected by the breach of OPM’s systems and whether it included contractor information as well as that of federal employees, Archuleta replied repeatedly, “I would be glad to discuss that in a classified setting.” That was Archuleta’s response to nearly all of the committee members’ questions over the course of the hearing this morning.
At least we found it
Archuleta told the committee that the breach was found only because she had been pushing forward with an aggressive plan to update OPM’s security, centralizing the oversight of IT security under the chief information officer and implementing “numerous tools and capabilities.” She claimed that it was during the process of updating tools that the breach was discovered. “But for the fact that OPM implemented new, more stringent security tools in its environment, we would have never known that malicious activity had previously existed on the network and would not have been able to share that information for the protection of the rest of the federal government,” she read from her prepared statement.
But nearly every question of substance about the breach—which systems were affected, how many individuals’ data was exposed, what type of data was accessed, and the potential security implications of that data—was deferred by Archuleta on the grounds that the information was classified. What wasn’t classified was OPM’s horrible track record on security, which dates back at least to the George W. Bush administration—if not further.
A history of neglect
During his opening statement, Chaffetz read verbatim from a 2009 OPM inspector general report that noted, “The continuing weakness in OPM information security program results directly from inadequate governance. Most if not all of the [information security] exceptions we noted this year result from a lack of leadership, policy, and guidance.” Similar statements were read from 2010 and 2012 reports, each more dire than the last. The OPM Office of the Inspector General only began upgrading its assessment of the agency’s security posture in its fiscal year 2014 report—filed just before news of a breach at a second OPM background investigation contractor surfaced….(read more)
- US Lawmakers Slam Government Officials Over Massive Cyber Attack (voanews.com)
- Cybertheft of Personnel Info Rips Hole in Espionage Defenses (abcnews.go.com)
- U.S. lawmakers demand federal encryption requirements after OPM hack (dailydot.com)
- Cybertheft of personnel info rips hole in espionage defenses (usnews.com)
- Fed personnel agency admits history of security problems (dailyherald.com)
- Oversight chair wants officials fired over hack (patriotupdate.com)
- Fed agency blames giant hack on “neglected” security system (denverpost.com)
- Cybertheft of personnel info rips hole in espionage defenses (seattlepi.com)