United States: Ransoming Sensitive Personal Information: Will OPM's Data Breach Trigger Your Insider Threats?

Perhaps it's the books I've been reading or the television shows I've been watching, but my mind can't seem to stop linking the recent barrage of cybersecurity attacks with those ne'er-do-wells that plagued the Caribbean from 1650 through the 1730s. Yes, I'm talking about pirates, but not the Errol Flynn/Johnny Depp-style buccaneer, more the Edward Teach model, the notorious "Blackbeard." One of Blackbeard's most infamous successes occurred in Charleston, South Carolina in 1718 when he blockaded Charleston Harbor and held some of the town's leading citizens for ransom. Rather than demand the typical jewels and money, Blackbeard wanted something else – he held both the town and its people ransom for £300 of medicine. After a circus of errors conspired to delay the ransom payment, Blackbeard received his medicine and released both the harbor and his prisoners – minus, of course, much of their finer possessions (they were pirates after all) – and sailed off into legend. So what does this jaunt down piracy lane have to do with cybersecurity and federal contractors? Simple, sometimes we don't know what's really of value and how that value can be used. Case in point – the OPM breach.

Unless you've been living in the 18th century you are aware that the records of approximately 4 million current and former federal employees were compromised as a result of a recently disclosed network breach at the Office of Personnel Management ("OPM"). The full extent of what was stolen remains unclear (as with most breaches), but it is currently believed that the attackers gained access to information such as Social Security numbers, job assignments, performance ratings, training information, and, most troubling, the information resident on the Standard Form 86 ("SF-86"), Questionnaire for National Security Positions. The SF-86 is a 127 page form contractors and federal employees complete in advance of background checks for security clearances. As such, the forms contain a wealth of sensitive – near-confessional – data, not only about the clearance-seeking workers, but also about their friends, spouses, family members, and foreign nationals with whom they interact. That information, in the hands of federal investigators, allows for the vetting of the keepers of the national security kingdom. But that same information – which may include financial information, criminal history, psychological records, and information about past drug use – can take on a decidedly more nefarious tone in the hands of ... well, the people who now have access to it. But, unlike credit card numbers or identity theft, the more granular OPM information on individuals may pose a threat to employers as it could allow the bad actor to ransom an individual's sensitive information and his/her reputation, in exchange for an employer's trade secret, an open door, or the simple act of plugging in a thumb drive.

According to DHS' National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, an individual's "vulnerability to blackmail" is a key indicator in identifying if that individual may pose an internal threat to his/her employer – be it the Federal Government or a federal contractor. The risk posed by that individual can vary, but that variance is largely due to motivation. For example, while poor cyber-sanitation can lead to a significant, albeit inadvertent, disclosure, imagine the harm that could be caused by an irritated employee or – gulp – an angry, put-upon, member of IT. Companies with formalized insider-threat programs may be able to respond or address these somewhat common – but no less difficult – scenarios. But when blackmail enters the arena, you get the worst of both worlds: you get an educated and dedicated bad-actor directing the activity of an unassuming and seemingly unassailable employee. At the risk of stating the obvious, it's hard to see that coming and that is a "bad thing."

What's worse is that this "bad thing" is happening at a "bad time" for the Government. Back in November, this blog informed readers about DoD D 5205.16, National Insider Threat Policy and Minimum Standards for Executive Branch Insider Threat Programs, DoD's insider-threat program policy that required components to issue respective insider-threat policies and implementation plans. However, according to a June 2015 GAO report, DoD is dragging its anchor. According to the investigation's findings, while the components assessed have begun implementing the six minimum standards mandated in Executive Order 13587 to protect classified information and systems, those same components "have not consistently incorporated all recommended key elements." For example, the report states that only three of the six components examined have "developed a baseline of normal activity" for their component. This is noteworthy because the development of a baseline is not only a "key element" of an effective insider threat identification and mitigation program, it is literally its foundation – you can't gauge when something looks odd if you don't know what normal looks like. The GAO cited this (fundamental) shortcoming as the result of DoD's failure to "issue guidance that identifies recommended actions beyond the minimum standards that components should take to enhance their insider-threat programs." The GAO report goes on to suggest that DoD's efforts to assess its current insider-threat programs and that of its components fail to adequately analyze gaps or incorporate risk assessments into its programs. In sum, while DoD struggles to do only what is minimally required of it, GAO found that "the department will not know whether its capabilities to address insider threats are adequate and address statutory requirements."

Federal contractors are sailing on stormy seas and should not share the Government's laissez-faire attitude toward insider threats – especially now. If a company has individuals with security clearances, it may be time to reinforce and remind employees of the risks and obligations accompanying their clearances. This conversation, however, should not be accompanied by saber rattling and pistol pointing; it should be an open discussion intending to assuage fears and encourage individuals with a "vulnerability to blackmail" to come forward should they find themselves at the end of a plank, sword at their back. The events at OPM serve as a reminder that there are black flags on the horizon and we may not know the intended target or plane of attack. As a result, companies need to ensure all hands are on deck with a unified mission to repel the invaders – from wherever they may come.

(Join Alex for Federal Publication Seminars' complimentary webinar "The Cyber Insider Threat – Detecting and Protecting" at 1:00 pm EST on August 13, 2015 as he and colleague Christine Couvillon discuss best practices for dealing with the insider threat, details available here.)

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Events from this Firm
3 Dec 2018, Other, Los Angeles, United States

National Contract Management Association’s Government Contract Management Symposium

20 Feb 2019, Seminar, Orange, United States

The annual seminar addressing changes and developments in state and federal wage and hour laws is a unique one-day program and hundreds of California employers, personnel managers, controllers, attorneys, payroll managers, and supervisors attend each year.

21 Feb 2019, Seminar, Orange, United States

The seminar is designed to provide a guide to Human Resource Officials, Personnel Specialists, Consultants, Supervisors and other management officials through the ever-increasing maze of state and federal employment discrimination laws.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions