Government Still Hasn’t Addressed Cybersecurity Issues, Chaffetz Says

The federal government still hasn’t secured its information technology systems, despite the massive data breaches disclosed by the Office of Personnel Management last year, according to the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) discussed a year-long investigation by the committee into how the personal records of about 22.1 million people—including current, former and prospective federal employees and contractors who had submitted to background investigations—were compromised in a pair of OPM data breaches.

A majority staff report on the committee’s investigation concluded that the OPM data breaches were preventable and that the agency failed to heed years of inspector general warnings that its information technology systems weren’t secure, Chaffetz said during a Sept. 7 event at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute.

He said federal agencies generally remain vulnerable to similar attacks.

Chief among these is the Department of Education, which is servicing about $1 trillion in student loans, Chaffetz said. Student loan applicants provide the department with extensive information about their families’ finances, he said. This information isn’t being properly protected, Chaffetz said, citing testimony from the department’s chief information officer during a hearing in February.

According to the committee’s report, hackers have already taken information from the U.S. Postal Service, the State Department, the Internal Revenue Service, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the White House, Chaffetz added.

But Chaffetz said he is most concerned about agencies that told the committee their systems are secure. “They’re probably wrong,” he said.

Adopting ‘Zero Trust’ Cybersecurity Model.

Citing recommendations from the report, Chaffetz said the government should adopt a “zero trust” cybersecurity model that presumes that anyone in an IT network could be a hacker. Currently, he said, too many agency IT systems presume that everyone in the network can be trusted.

The government also needs to update its aging IT systems, increase the use of multifactor identification processes, reduce the use of Social Security numbers in government databases and make agency cybersecurity jobs more attractive to these in-demand specialists, Chaffetz said.

The chairman said he trusts Beth Cobert, the acting OPM director, to take appropriate action going forward. Katherine Archuleta, the former OPM director, and Donna Seymour, the agency’s former chief information officer, both left the OPM following last year’s data breaches.

Cobert in a blog post said the OPM disagreed with “many aspects” of the report and doesn’t believe it accurately depicts “where this agency stands today.” The OPM has already taken some of the steps outlined in the report and looks forward to continue working on cybersecurity issues in cooperation with the committee, she said.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House panel, released a memorandum from the committee’s Democrats that said the majority report failed to adequately address the role of federal contractors in the OPM data breaches.

“One of the most significant deficiencies uncovered during the Committee’s investigation was the finding that cyber requirements for government contractors are inadequate,” an Aug. 7 statement from Cummings’ office said.

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