US Data Breach Hits 21m People

US Data Breach Hits 21m PeopleUS Data Breach Hits 21m People

Data breaches at the US government’s personnel management agency by hackers involve millions more people than previously estimated, US officials said on Thursday.

The Office of Personnel Management said data stolen from its computer networks included social security numbers and other sensitive information on 21.5 million people who have undergone background checks for security clearances, France24 reported.

That is in addition to data on about 4.2 million current and former federal workers that was stolen in what the OPM called a “separate but related” hacking incident. Because many people were affected by both hacks, a total of 22.1 million people were affected, or almost 7% of the US population.

The breach had already been considered one of the most damaging on record because of its scale and, more importantly, the sensitivity of the material taken.

Those exposed included 19.7 million who applied for the clearances, current, former and prospective federal employees and contractors, plus 1.8 million non-applicants, mostly spouses or cohabitants of applicants, the agency said.

Lawmakers from both parties demanded OPM Director Katherine Archuleta’s removal. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, said President Barack Obama “must take a strong stand against incompetence in his administration and instill new leadership at OPM.”

The US has identified China as the leading suspect in the massive hacking of the US government agency, an assertion China’s Foreign Ministry dismissed as “absurd logic.”

OPM said the stolen personal identification data included: Social security numbers, residency and educational history, employment history, information about immediate family and other personal and business acquaintances and health, criminal and financial history. Also stolen were about 1.1 million fingerprints, the agency said.

But the social security numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. The critical information, which was not encrypted, involves a complete rundown of the personal lives of some 90% of applicants for security clearances, mainly excepting most undercover CIA agents.

That includes drug use, relationships and close friends abroad of those in the military, National Security Agency and sensitive State Department posts, among many others, essentially a roadmap for what weaknesses might be used for blackmail by a foreign power.