Notification deadline passes, feds exposed in OPM breaches still in the dark
- By Zach Noble
- Jun 19, 2015
Haven’t received notification that you’re one of the millions of current or former federal employees personally impacted by the massive breaches at the Office of Personnel Management?
Don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet.
According to OPM’s statements, June 19 was to be the final day for breach notifications to be sent out, either by mail or through firstname.lastname@example.org (CSID, a Texas-based security, identify protection and fraud detection firm, has been contracted by OPM to manage fallout from the breach.)
But with a second breach of background-check information developing and problems plaguing the first breach notification process, potentially millions of affected feds remain unaware of their exposure.
Finishing one round, heading for another
OPM has confirmed that roughly 2.1 million active feds, 1.1 million former government employees and 1 million retirees – 4.2 million all told – were exposed in the first breach. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) are among those who have already received notifications of their exposure.
OPM has not yet estimated the total impact of the second breach, which exposed background-check information (including the highly sensitive SF-86 forms) of military, intelligence and contractor personnel.
In a June 18 update to its FAQs, OPM affirmed that the 19th would be the final day that notifications for the first breach were sent out, but the agency noted not everyone would actually get their notification by that day: “[W]hile all emails and letters will be mailed by June 19 it may take several days beyond June 19 for notification to arrive.”
Feds who have email addresses on file would receive notifications from email@example.com; those with no email addresses on file with OPM would get be notified via the Postal Service.
OPM, via CSID, began sending notifications on June 8, but it wasn’t clear whether physical mail notifications were prioritized over virtually instantaneous email notices so they would arrive before June 19.
Samuel Schumach, OPM’s primary spokesman throughout the debacle, sent a two-word response – “In work” – to inquiries about the notifications and did not respond to multiple follow-up emails and phone calls. The main OPM press lines went to voicemail throughout the course of the day June 19.
Even as OPM wrapped up the first round of notifications, an untold number of further notifications connected to the security clearance information breach remain to be sent.
Questions and delays
The process has been less than smooth.
OPM’s $20 million deal with Winvale Group for CSID fraud prevention services has drawn questions, as some suspect the deal might have been rushed.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) wrote a letter to OPM in which he accused CSID of providing “substandard service” to impacted feds.
“My constituents have reported that the website crashes frequently, and that the company’s dedicated hotline regarding the OPM breach has incredibly long wait times,” Warner wrote. “Wait times of over an hour are not uncommon. Even as I write, CSID is reporting a wait time of approximately 90 minutes to speak with a representative.”
Warner also noted that the Blanket Purchase Agreement Request for Quotation that OPM posted to FedBizOpps for identity protection services offered companies a mere 36 hours to respond.
“According to procurement experts, such a short turnaround time is highly unusual and raises suggestions that OPM could have intentionally steered the contract to CSID,” Warner wrote, calling for the contract to go to another firm if CSID proves incapable of handling the task.
And in the midst of notifying feds of their exposure, OPM ran afoul of basic cyber hygiene by telling employees to click on a link in an email – a favorite tactic of the spear-phishing campaigns that have plagued the military.
“We’ve seen such distrust and concerns about phishing,” Schumach told the Washington Post.
That distrust led Defense Department CIO Terry Halvorsen to inform his agency last week that OPM was “suspending notification to DoD personnel that their [Personal Identifying Information] may have been breached until an improved, more secure notification and response process can be put in place,” the Post noted.
CSID started back up with DoD notifications on June 17, Schumach told the Post, offering the option in the new emails to copy and paste the link rather than clicking on it.
A DoD spokeswoman referred questions about breach notifications to OPM, and OPM’s Schumach did not respond to questions about how the DoD troubles may have delayed the overall notification process.
Zach Noble is a staff writer covering digital citizen services, workforce issues and a range of civilian federal agencies.
Before joining FCW in 2015, Noble served as assistant editor at the viral news site TheBlaze, where he wrote a mix of business, political and breaking news stories and managed weekend news coverage. He has also written for online and print publications including The Washington Free Beacon, The Santa Barbara News-Press, The Federalist and Washington Technology.
Noble is a graduate of Saint Vincent College, where he studied English, economics and mathematics.
Click here for previous articles by Noble, or connect with him on Twitter: @thezachnoble.