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Cyber attack hits millions of US federal workers

Millions of US Government employees across all Federal agencies have potentially had their personal details exposed in a massive data breach involving the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). This department handles human resources for Federal agencies and provides checks for security clearance.

James Maude, Security Engineer at Avecto said: "Although we don't have all the details yet it is possible that 4 million current and former employees' records have been compromised. The FBI have launched an investigation with the focus appearing to be on China following a thwarted attempt to steal files relating to employees with top secret levels of clearance last year that was traced back to the region.

"These recent attacks show just how serious the consequences of cyber-attacks can be, it is not just an attack on an organisation but can impact individuals. Federal employees will be especially concerned as OPM will store highly detailed information that would be more than enough to identify someone, compromise their identity or monitor them.

"Sadly, this attack is not a unique event with organisations across the globe being hit by data breaches on an hourly basis. What is often clear in these attacks is that most current defenses are not sufficient to deal with the attacks. Many still rely on signature based detection to identify the known bad, an idea that is fundamentally flawed and unable to keep up with the volume of attacks. Another big problem is over privileged users, in Government this is often referred to as the Snowdon problem where users are given wide reaching powers and access with little or no oversight. When threats cannot be identified and users can access too much you create the perfect environment for a data breach.

"It's clear that a substantial improvement in our cyber databases and defenses is perilously overdue,"
- U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

"It is time for organisations to start to rethink security and become proactive. The focus needs to shift from blame and attribution to a more productive environment of evolving defenses and becoming proactive in defense. Security is a journey, not a destination and pointing the finger of blame does nothing to move your own security further down this road."