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Should ID Theft Protection Be a Standard Federal Employee Benefit?

A chart of data breaches is shown on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 16, 2015, as witnesses testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform committee's hearing on the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) data breach.

A chart of data breaches is shown on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 16, 2015, as witnesses testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform committee's hearing on the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) data breach. // AP Photo/Cliff Owen

This story has been updated to add new details from the Office of Personnel Management.

Credit monitoring could become a standard perk for federal employees, right along with dental insurance, if the Office of Personnel Management endorses an idea tossed up by the White House. And many recently-hacked government workers want that bonus, OPM officials said on Monday.

Following a string of agency data breaches, capped off by a breach of 21.5 million sensitive background investigation files, the Obama administration Oct. 30 released a governmentwide cybersecurity strategy

In the 21-page directive, the Office of Management and Budget called on OPM to consider offering identity theft protection as a routine employee benefit.

In recent years, OPM, the U.S. Postal Service, Energy Department and federal Thrift Savings Plan retirement fund each provided credit monitoring to personnel after breaches at their respective agencies.

The new plan "directs OPM within three months to review options and develop and deliver to OMB recommendations for making identity protection services a standard federal employee benefit."

The agency seems receptive to the idea. "Based on the response by individuals impacted by the personnel records incident there appears to be significant interest in these services by federal employees," OPM spokesman Sam Schumach told Nextgov in an email. "OPM continues to work with an interagency team to develop and deliver recommendations to OMB for making identity protection services a standard federal employee benefit. "

The administration, in September, picked three ID-monitoring contractors to help data breach victims after any future agency hack. 

It is unclear whether the preemptive ID protections under consideration would be provided free of charge to all personnel by default or made available as an option. 

ID theft ranked No. 1 on the Federal Trade Commission’s annual list of U.S. consumer complaints for the 15th consecutive year, with 332,646 incidents reported.  

The protection agreements already inked are valued at around $500 million over the next five years. One of the vendors, which goes by the name "ID Experts," clinched a $330 million 3-year deal to cover victims whose background check records were stolen from OPM.  

Federal officials and private investigators say there are no indications data confiscated in that incident, allegedly a Chinese hacker operation, is being used for ID theft.  

No credible reporting suggests that data from the massive sweep is on sale, Richard Bejtlich, chief security strategist at FireEye, said Monday at a national security summit in Washington, organized by Nextgov’s sister publication Defense One.

"Everything points to this being a nation-state attack," he said. "It's not the same as when someone steals credit cards from a major retailer and they are for sale on the black market within days and they are advertised as being fresh." 

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said a foreign government could use the data on 21.5 million individuals pilfered from OPM for extortion or recruiting purposes.

"As illustrated so dramatically with the OPM breaches, counterintelligence risks are inherent when foreign intelligence obtain access to an individual's identity information," he said at a Sept. 10 House intelligence committee hearing.

At Monday's event, Jeff Coburn, chief of the FBI Cyber Major Crimes unit, would not directly comment on the OPM case, but said generally nation-state hackers are not focused on making money from stolen data.

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