OPM hack: White House orders the adoption of best practices

Pierluigi Paganini June 14, 2015

Following the recent OPM data breach the White House requested IT administrators to implement and adopt basic security measures.

A few days ago news media agencies reported the data breach at the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM), according to the US Government the hack is one of the largest breaches of federal employees’ data. Data belonging to more than four million current and former government workers were exposed in the attack that was apparently originated in China. The attackers accessed individual personal identifying information (PII), including Social Security numbers, the violation begun at least late last year despite it was uncovered only in April.

In response to the hack, the White House has ordered federal agencies to adopt necessary countermeasures to prevent further attacks. The Pentagon is requesting the deployment of the state-of-the-art anti-hacker defenses and the adoption of security best practices, including the installation of security patches and the assignment of minimum execution privileges.

“Recent events underscore the need to accelerate the administration’s cyber strategy and confront aggressive, persistent malicious actors that continue to target our nation’s cyber infrastructure,” Office of Management and Budget officials said in a statement. In addition to OPM, the White House, State Department, U.S. Postal Service were attacked by hackers over the past year. U.S. Chief Information Officer Tony Scott “recently launched” what officials are calling a 30-day cybersecurity sprint.” states TheNextGov website.

Which are the steps to take in order to secure IT infrastructure of the US Government?

In a statement today, officials at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget requested the adoption of the following measures:

  1. Install software patches for critical vulnerabilities “without delay.”
  2. Use antivirus and check log files for “indicators” of malware infection or intrusion.
  3. Start using two-factor authentication.
  4. Slash the number of people with administrator-level access and limit what they can do and for how long per-login-session, and “ensure that privileged user activities are logged and that such logs are reviewed regularly.”


The Government is requesting to the agencies to report on progress and security issues complying with these procedures within 30 days.

Why no precautions have been taken in the past?

I consider disconcerting to read these suggestions, I expect that these are basic measures for the protection of any system, I cannot think that sensitive networks and Government systems are not protected by so simple measures.

According to the Washington Post, FBI claims that the attackers exploited zero-day vulnerabilities to compromise the OPM network.

“The intruders used a “zero-day” — a previously unknown cyber-tool — to take advantage of a vulnerability that allowed the intruders to gain access into the system.” states the WashingtonPost

“We take all potential threats to public- and private-sector systems seriously and will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace,” said the FBI spokesman Josh Campbell.


Stay tuned…

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs –  OPM hack, cyber security)

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