News in Brief

PSC takes on OPM, FBI lags on info sharing, Joint Chiefs' email crashes and more

Shutterstock image (by adhike): hacker over a screen with binary code.

PSC: Where are all the notifications?

The Professional Services Council hammered the Office of Personnel Management for failing to notify tens of millions of feds, contractors and others that their sensitive personal data has been breached.

"Unfortunately, it has now been more than four weeks since the first public release of the existence of the second [background check information] breach and still no notifications have been sent out," wrote PSC President and CEO Stan Soloway in a July 29 letter to OPM's new acting director, Beth Cobert. "These estimated 21.5 million employees and their family members are not sure of their exposure."

When OPM acknowledged the first breach of 4.2 million personnel records on June 4, the agency announced its notification plan -- and the contractor that would be providing credit monitoring -- on the same day.

When OPM announced that 21.5 million people had potentially been affected by the second breach on July 9, it was a different story. A contract award for second-round credit monitoring is not scheduled to be awarded until mid-August.

"This is an unacceptable delay in notifications," Soloway said. "Contractors and other affected individuals should be treated the same as the [4.2] million federal employees [and] former federal employees covered by the first data breach, who were notified within days of being affected and provided protections immediately."

Soloway called for immediate notifications for the 21.5 million people and 18 months of credit monitoring under existing contracts. Congress is currently hashing out whether affected individuals should receive even longer credit-monitoring terms.

OPM did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Audit: FBI's info sharing improves with agencies, lags with private sector

The FBI has more work to do if it wants to make its sharing of cyberthreat information with the private sector more effective, according to an audit published July 30 by the Justice Department's inspector general.

The information shared is often not considered useful because it is "already known, lacks context or is outdated," the report states. Going the other direction, private firms conveyed the sense that sharing information with the FBI is "akin to sending information into a black hole because they often do not know what becomes of it."

Nonetheless, the audit found that information sharing among members of the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force, a 19-agency group charged with predicting and thwarting cyberthreats, had improved significantly since a 2011 audit.

The recurring challenge of competition with the private sector for talent was also raised in the latest audit. Former FBI officials have gone on to top positions at cybersecurity firms, presumably with higher salaries. The audit recommends that the FBI try to recruit people who are motivated by the mission rather than the money.

Joint Chiefs' unclassified email network taken down

The Joint Chiefs of Staff's unclassified email network was taken down July 30, apparently in the midst of a potential cyberthreat.

"We continue to identify and mitigate cybersecurity risks across our networks," Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson said in a statement. "With those goals in mind, we have taken the Joint Staff [unclassified] network down and continue to investigate. Our top priority is to restore services as quickly as possible."

Another bill seeks to strengthen DHS' cyber hand

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) has introduced legislation aimed at strengthening the Department of Homeland Security's defense of civilian agency networks against cyberthreats.

The bill would amend the 2002 Homeland Security Act to require the DHS secretary and the Office of Management and Budget director to develop an intrusion detection and response plan covering agencies other than the Defense Department and intelligence outfits.

The measure would also task those individuals with assessing best practices for preventing data exfiltration in the event of a hack.

"In light of the massive OPM hacks, it's clear that our nation's federal digital infrastructure isn't capable of effectively detecting and defending against these cyberthreats," McCaul said in a statement. "Currently, the Department of Homeland Security's hands are tied in responding to ever growing cyberthreats. Providing DHS with similar abilities to defend federal networks that the Department of Defense uses to protect military networks is common-sense legislation."

18F's open-source repo guide

In a July 29 blog post, the General Services Administration's 18F announced an "Open Source Style Guide" to help organizations effectively document code repositories.

The guide uses GitHub terminology but can be applied to other open-source platforms.

The new document echoes 18F's writing guide in valuing brevity, clarity and real human language -- leave the acronyms and jargon someplace else. It also outlines best practices for writing readable READMEs, identifying issues for collaborators to work on, and using wikis to organize research and other information without bogging down those READMEs.

FBI alert: Adobe spear-phishing campaign targets feds

The FBI formally warned federal agencies in mid-July about a new spear-phishing campaign, potentially backed by a Chinese hacker group, that targets federal employees and seeks to shake out sensitive information through a flaw in a popular Web media player.

The FBI's "TLP: Green" notice says the campaign, which began July 8, is ongoing and has targeted federal agencies with a series of email messages riddled with malicious code.

FCW reported on July 13 that a team of Chinese hackers had targeted several large federal agencies in June with a spear-phishing campaign that took advantage of an undiscovered flaw in Adobe Flash Player. The campaign, dubbed Operation Clandestine Wolf, sent some agencies scrambling to determine whether their networks had been compromised.

According to FireEye, the cybersecurity firm that uncovered the zero-day flaw in Adobe's Flash Player in early June, the operation's backers had launched a large-scale phishing campaign against organizations in aerospace and defense, construction and engineering, high-tech, telecommunications and transportation.

The Agriculture Department (one of several federal agencies affected by the earlier campaign) released an unclassified but restricted For Official Use Only security advisory saying the campaign also had some large federal agencies in its crosshairs.

The FBI's July 16 notice, which was published July 24 on the Public Intelligence open-source website, said the agency had determined that the new campaign is similar to the one launched in June. Both campaigns involved sending email messages to federal employees containing links that exploit Adobe Flash vulnerability CVE-2015-5119.

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