Heads are set to roll at the Office of Personnel Management as director Katherine Archuleta continues to receive a grilling from Senate committees, who are beginning to realise that the country's entire intelligence workforce has been utterly pwned, probably by a hostile nation.
Archuleta, alongside OPM's Chief Information Officer, Donna Seymour, is being aggressively questioned (some would say reviled) at successive Senate hearings for presiding over the biggest threat US national security has ever faced in the age of digital information.
A hearing by the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government on Tuesday (23 June) to review information technology spending and data security at OPM opened with the chairman, John Boozman, (R-AR) stating that "the massive breach of OPM systems may have been the most devastating cyber attack in our nation's history".
Earlier this month OPM admitted that the data of over four million federal employees had been stolen.
This was followed by the announcement of a second breach, which was estimated to affect 14 million federal employees, and included the theft of Standard Form 86, essentially a biography for intelligence workers.
The senate hearing featured speculation that those numbers may again be revised, upwards. A CNN report suggesting 18 million was cited, but Archuleta disputed those numbers and reasserted her agency's initial estimate of over four million.
This provoked a rare outburst from the FBI, via the acting assistant director of the Men in Black's cyber division, James Comey, who waved a copy of OPM's own internal report which, he noted, was the source for the 18 million estimation.
Another hearing on Wednesday, held by the Oversight Committee, saw its excitable chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) tell Seymour that she was "in over [her] head." He additionally told Archuleta that he thought she was part of the problem. "I think if you want different results, we're going to have to have different people," he told the room.
Archuleta gave stock responses to most of her questions. The initial Oversight committee's hearing, which took place last Tuesday (16 June), featured the assembly of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform again tearing into Archuleta.
"You failed, utterly and totally," stated Chaffetz on that occasion.
Archuleta has continued to defend herself and her agency, claiming all had acted properly in working to secure legacy systems. She asserted that a comprehensive revamp was necessary to build a network capable of running modern security tools. OPM would be asking for an additional $21m over the next year to do just that.
The Financial Services committee meeting, this Tuesday (23 June) responded to these claims, and the chairman announced US government spents approximately $82bn on IT, annually.
"Across the government, IT projects too frequently go over budget, fall behind schedule, and do not deliver value to taxpayers," declared Boozman. Unwilling to broach the issue without criticising the Democratic Party, Boozman suggested that the Obama administration "views the federal government as capable of tackling almost every problem the nation faces".
In prioritising the growth of the size and scope of the federal government, the administration fails to follow through on its existing projects, claimed Republican Boozman.
In response to the breach, the White House has ordered federal agencies to engage in radical security practices to protect the nation's information.
Federal techies will, from now on, need to install security patches, use anti-virus software, and avoid giving everyone the admin password.
A recent report from CIA and Google-funded Recorded Future has suggested the wide availability of login credentials for US government agencies on the web's open paste sites.
Later today, Archuleta will face another committee — though even we're not sure which one — and it is quite unlikely that this committee will manage to get much more information out of the OPM Director.
Incidentally, the stolen OPM database was reportedly being offered on Hell, an onion site hosting a e-crim forum. According to Brian Krebs. However, the database being flogged actually originated from a different, undisclosed, data breach of Unicor.gov, also known as Federal Prison Industries. ®