53 percent do not believe that the government has been transparent with its response to the OPM data breach. Furthermore, approximately 44 percent disagreed that their office or agency was better prepared to protect against future breaches than it was one year ago.
Nobody is immune to cyber crime, not even the United States government. A year ago, the State Department Office of Personnel Management (OPM) suffered a catastrophic data breach that compromised sensitive data of over 20 million individuals who submitted to background checks for federal employment. Though the leak has caused hardship for its victims, it has undeniably spurred a necessary culture change at OPM that should serve as a model for other government agencies.
Let’s Make a Change
Beth Cobert is the Acting Director of OPM, after the previous director was forced to step down in the wake of the hack. Under her watch, the OPM has dramatically increased its security measures. Employees must now use two-factor authentication — a secure card and a password — to log into computers. They have also upgraded software security, installing new malware protections and forbidding Gmail access on OPM servers.
These upgrades — for years the industry standard — are just a few examples of how OPM had to bring its security up-to-date. Though notorious data-hoarding agencies such as the NSA, DoD, and DoJ have extensive security measures, many obscure branches of the government felt that their anonymity was protection enough against hackers. Ann Barron-DiCamillo, the leader of the post-hack probe, lamented the lackadaisical attitude of many lower-profile government agencies toward cyber security. “[The OPM hack] brought into the forefront that smaller-sized, medium-sized agencies that didn’t consider themselves to be such a threat to cyber-activity from data thieves, that they also have this potential publicity associated with becoming a target and becoming a victim.”
Not Out of the Woods
Though OPM has taken great strides towards improving cybersecurity, Rep. Will Hurd, who chairs the House Oversight Committee on the information technology panel, fears that it is only a matter of time before another department — such as the Department of Education or the Social Security Administration — is breached. “They’re not even adopting some of the best practices when it comes to good digital system hygiene.” The public seems to agree. A Federal News Radio survey found that 53 percent of respondents feel the government has not been transparent in its response to the OPM data breach. Furthermore, 44 percent of government employees surveyed said their office or agency is no better prepared to protect against data breaches than it was a year ago.
Wide-Ranging Impacts of a Data Breach
Data breaches don’t just impact our sense of security; they have real consequences for their victims. Retired federal court law clerk Ryan Lozar says his identity was used to buy thousands of dollars in goods at Best Buy and open a PayPal account, giving him countless headaches when managing his personal finances. Data security is not just good business practice, but an absolute necessity for any organization that respects its employees and clients.
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