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OPM hit by class-action suit over breach of federal employee data

John Ribeiro | June 30, 2015
A federal employees union has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, its leadership and a contractor, alleging that their negligence led to a data breach that compromised the personal information of millions of current, former and prospective government employees and contractors.

A federal employees union has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, its leadership and a contractor, alleging that their negligence led to a data breach that compromised the personal information of millions of current, former and prospective government employees and contractors.

Since at least 2007, the OPM has been warned by its Office of Inspector General of significant deficiencies in its cybersecurity protocol, according to the proposed class-action suit filed Monday by the American Federation of Government Employees in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

However, OPM failed to take measures to correct these issues, despite handling massive amounts of federal applicants' private, sensitive and confidential information, it added. The data handled by the OPM included a 127-page form, called Standard Form 86, which requires applicants for security clearances to answer questions on their financial histories and investment records, children's and relatives' names, foreign trips and contacts with foreign nationals, past residences, and names of neighbors and close friends, according to the filing.

The lawsuit names the OPM, its director, Katherine Archuleta, and its chief information officer, Donna Seymour. Also charged is KeyPoint Government Solutions, a provider of investigative and risk mitigation services to the OPM.

The federal personnel agency announced on June 4 that it had been the victim of a massive cyberattack that could have compromised the personally identifiable information of up to 4 million persons. It said that as the investigation was ongoing, other exposures of personal information could come to light. Some accounts have put the figure of people that could be affected as high as 18 million.

When KeyPoint, which handled the majority of federal background checks, announced in December that it had faced a computer network breach, a spokeswoman of the OPM said there was "no conclusive evidence to confirm sensitive information was removed from the system" but that the OPM would notify 48,439 federal workers that their information may have been exposed, according to the complaint.

But after the OPM hack became public, Archuleta and the OPM identified the misuse of a KeyPoint user credential as the source of the breach, it added.

Despite knowing about the KeyPoint breach and explicit warnings about shortcomings in its cybersecurity protocol and the dangers associated with those deficiencies, the OPM leaders chose not to shut down the agency's software systems, according to the employees.

"The combination of KeyPoint's cyber security weaknesses and the OPM's cyber security failures caused the massive scope of the OPM Breach," according to the filing by the AFGE jointly with one current and another former employee of the federal government, who had both received notifications that their personal identifiable information may have been exposed in the OPM data breach.

 

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