Hackers took fingerprints from the Office of Personnel Management. The government agency now admits that cyber hackers stole 5.6 million fingerprints of American citizens. Initially, the federal government had estimated that "only" 1.1 million fingerprints had been taken during the cyber attack.
The hackers that stole fingerprints also stole the Social Security numbers and home addresses of more than 21 million current and former government employees, MSN reports. Both the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Department of Defense are currently investigating the breach of personal information and biometric data pertaining to staffers.
The 5.6 million people who had their Social Security numbers and other personal data stolen could have the bulk of that information changed and even move, but fingerprints are set for life. The use of fingerprints instead of traditional passwords for daily security members and access to personal technology has enhanced public concerns regarding how the cyber hackers could use the stolen material.
"Today's blatant news dump is the clearest sign yet that the administration still acts like the OPM hack is a PR crisis instead of a national security threat," Republican Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse said.
Chinese cyber hackers have been suspected of the fingerprint theft, but federal investigators have not yet publicly announced any suspects in the cyber attack. Chinese President Xi Jinping is visiting the U.S. and claimed China is as a strong defender of cyber security, the New York Times reports.
"The fact that the number [of fingerprints breached] just increased by a factor of five is pretty mind-boggling," Center for Democracy and Technology Chief Technologist Joseph Lorenzo Hall said. "I'm surprised they didn't have structures in place to determine the number of fingerprints compromised earlier during the investigation."
Federal experts reportedly feel the possible "misuse" of the fingerprints stolen by the cyber hackers is limited, according to a statement made by officials at the OPM.
"If, in the future, new means are developed to misuse the fingerprint data, the government will provide additional information to individuals whose fingerprints may have been stolen in this breach," OPM stated.
However, agency experts also noted that while they believe the use of stolen fingerprints is "currently limited," that could "could change over time as technology evolves." Intelligence experts are now reviewing the ways in which fingerprint data can be used and are attempting to develop a process to prevent that from happening.
"OPM keeps getting it wrong," Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz said. "I have zero confidence in OPM's competence and ability to manage this crisis."
The 5.6 million people who were impacted by the hackers taking fingerprints are still reportedly in the process of being notified by OPM. All of the government employees will be offered "free" fraud protection and identity theft services.
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