Feds Hacked in OPM Breach Could Still Receive More Benefits

Victims are still signing up for services at a steady pace.

Federal employees and other victims of the hacks of data maintained by the Office of Personnel Management may still receive more expansive or longer protection, according to the head of the company currently providing those services.

The 21.5 million victims of the breach of information collected during background investigations of potential, current and former security clearance holders are now eligible for up to 10 years of identity theft protection and credit monitoring services. OPM originally offered three years and up to $1 million in identity theft protection, but an agency spokesman said Wednesday OPM is currently “taking steps” to expand that program for 10 years and up to $5 million as directed by Congress last year.

Still, that package could leave hacked feds vulnerable, Bob Gregg, CEO of ID Experts -- the company OPM awarded a $330 million contract after the breach was announced -- told Government Executive. OPM has informally kicked around the idea of expanding services to include, for example, medical identity theft protection, Gregg said. He explained that using individuals’ personal information, such as their Social Security number and other data exposed in the OPM hacks, to receive medical services is a growing area of fraud.

The OPM spokesman declined to comment on whether services might be expanded or extended. Some lawmakers have called for hack victims to receive lifetime protections, while federal employee unions have asked for extended services. The agency itself said in the immediate aftermath of the data breaches it would “develop a proposal for the types of credit and identity theft monitoring services that should be provided to all federal employees in the future -- regardless of whether they have been affected by this incident -- to ensure their personal information is always protected.” OPM has yet to put forward such a proposal.

Gregg said he expects that conversation to “heat up” in the near future, as the 18 months of protections offered to the original population of 4.2 million current and former federal employees whose data were exposed in the first hack is soon expiring.

Interest in those types of services has not waned, Gregg said. Typically, companies like ID Experts see a huge wave of signups when notification letters are first sent out followed by a steadily declining number of signups. In this case, however, the number of victims enrolling in the protection services has remained consistent over the seven months since the letters first went out.

Total enrollment has not matched the record-setting level achieved in the original hack population, but according to Gregg remains above average.

The executive conceded that services OPM is offering through his company may not get to the heart of the threat employees whose data were breached might face.

“Unfortunately, we can only use what’s available,” Gregg said. “We’re using what’s available. If there was some database we could monitor for the use of a SF-86 form for the background on a security clearance, we’d be doing that. But there isn’t.”

He mentioned, however, that services OPM is offering such as dark Web monitoring added particular value to this case. He also noted that hack victims enrolled in the services can benefit from the package provided by OPM even if the potential identity theft or credit fraud is not related to that particular breach.

ID Experts has extensive experience in providing protection to individuals whose information was exposed after a breach at a federal agency, including the Social Security Administration, Veterans Affairs Department, Internal Revenue Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency and NASA. Those incidents generally involved non-government civilians whose information was held by the agency, though Gregg noted one of his more interesting cases involved recovering the identity of an astronaut.

While individuals have filed claims with ID Experts enrolled through OPM, there has not yet been any evidence of any individual or group using the exposed information for a nefarious purpose. He cautioned, however, that identity thieves often “sit on” the data they have stolen for a long period of time, waiting for “the noise to die down” before using the information.

Gregg said his company has a strong working relationship with OPM, and he spent the first six months post-contract award giving daily updates to the agency on enrollment rates, call center volume and other bits of information. Those reports have since been scaled back first to weekly and now monthly in frequency. 

Acting OPM Director Beth Cobert -- who replaced Katherine Archuleta after the former director was forced to step down in the aftermath of the breaches -- took a personal stake in ensuring the services were delivered properly, Gregg said.

When the notifications were first being sent, Gregg recalled, Cobert told him, “Every one of those letters has my name at the bottom, so we’ve got to do this right.”