Another week, another round of bad news about the OPM breach. This time we learn the fingerprints of 5.6 million US government employees was exfiltrated by the ostensible Chinese hackers:
The attack on the agency, which is the main custodian of the government’s most important personnel records, has been attributed to China by American intelligence agencies, but it is unclear exactly what group or organization engineered it. Before Wednesday, the agency had said that it lost only 1.1 million sets of fingerprints among the records of roughly 22 million individuals that were compromised.
“Federal experts believe that, as of now, the ability to misuse fingerprint data is limited,” the agency said in a written statement. But clearly the uses are growing as biometrics are used more frequently to assure identity, in secure government facilities and even on personal iPhones.
The working assumption of investigators is that China is building a huge database of information about American officials or contractors who may end up entering China or doing business with it. Fingerprints could become a significant part of that effort: While a Social Security number or a password can be changed, fingerprints cannot.
Customs and immigration officials frequently fingerprint incoming travelers; millions of fingerprints in a Chinese database would help track the true identities of Americans entering the country.
“I am assuming there will be people we simply can’t send to China,” a senior intelligence official said this summer, before the most recent revelation. “That’s only part of the damage.”
The agency said that an “interagency working group,” with help from the F.B.I., the Department of Homeland Security and the intelligence agencies, “will review the potential ways adversaries could misuse fingerprint data now and in the future.”
The OPM breach is going to be studied for the next few years and will become the premier case study on how not to conduct cyber security. It is amazing they still have not increased their cyber defense capabilities since this all came to light a few short months ago.