5.6M fingerprints stolen in US personnel data hack: government

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Hackers who stole security clearance data on millions of Defense Department and other U.S. government employees got away with about 5.6 million fingerprint records, some 4.5 million more than initially reported, the government said on Wednesday.

During an ongoing analysis of the data breach, the estimated number of people who had fingerprint records stolen rose from 1.1 million to about 5.6 million, the Office of Personnel Management said in a statement.

OPM has estimated a total of 21.5 million people had their Social Security identification numbers and other sensitive information stolen in the hacking incident earlier this spring. The discovery of additional missing fingerprints did not affect that overall total, it said.

U.S. officials have privately blamed the breach on Chinese government hackers, but they have avoided saying so publicly. Officials also have said no evidence has surfaced yet suggesting the stolen data has been abused, though they fear the theft could present counterintelligence problems.

OPM said in its statement the discovery of additional stolen fingerprints came as officials from OPM and the Defense Department were analyzing data affected by the incident.

See photos of the aftermath of the data hack:

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5.6M fingerprints stolen in US personnel data hack: government
Katherine Archuleta, director of the Office of Personnel Management, listens during a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill June 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. Witnesses testified about the hacking of Office of Personnel Management data. (Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
From left Katherine Archuleta, director of the Office of Personnel Management, US Chief Information Officer Tony Scott, Assistant Homeland Security Secretary for National Protection and Programs Andy Ozment, and McFarland, inspector general of the Office of Personnel Management, are sworn in during a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill June 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. Witnesses testified about the hacking of Office of Personnel Management data. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 23 - Katherine Archuleta, director, Office of Personnel Management, testifies during a Senate Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee hearing to review data security and information technology spending at the Office of Personal Management on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, June 23, 2015. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Katherine Archuleta, director of Office of Personnel Management, arrives for a Senate Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee hearing to review information technology spending and data security at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, on Capitol Hill, June 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. FBI Director James Comey recently told Senators in a closed-door meeting that the personal data of an estimated 18 million current and former federal employees were affected by a recent cyber breach at the Office of Personnel Management. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest answers questions on the massive cyber-attack on the personal data of government employees June 5, 2015 during the daily briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC. The US government on Thursday admitted hackers accessed the personal data of at least four million current and former federal employees, in a vast cyber-attack suspected to have originated in China. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest answers questions on the massive cyber-attack on the personal data of government employees June 5, 2015 during the daily briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC. The US government on Thursday admitted hackers accessed the personal data of at least four million current and former federal employees, in a vast cyber-attack suspected to have originated in China. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A gate leading to the Homeland Security Department headquarters in northwest Washington, Friday, June 5, 2015. China-based hackers are suspected once again of breaking into U.S. government computer networks, and the entire federal workforce could be at risk this time. The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that data from the Office of Personnel Management _ the human resources department for the federal government _ and the Interior Department had been compromised. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest answers questions on the massive cyber-attack on the personal data of government employees June 5, 2015 during the daily briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC. The US government on Thursday admitted hackers accessed the personal data of at least four million current and former federal employees, in a vast cyber-attack suspected to have originated in China. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 05: The Theodore Roosevelt Federal Building that houses the Office of Personnel Management headquarters is shown June 5, 2015 in Washington, DC. U.S. investigators have said that at least four million current and former federal employees might have had their personal information stolen by Chinese hackers. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 05: The entrance to the Theodore Roosevelt Federal Building that houses the Office of Personnel Management headquarters is shown June 5, 2015 in Washington, DC. U.S. investigators have said that at least four million current and former federal employees might have had their personal information stolen by Chinese hackers. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 05: The Theodore Roosevelt Federal Building that houses the Office of Personnel Management headquarters is shown June 5, 2015 in Washington, DC. U.S. investigators have said that at least four million current and former federal employees might have had their personal information stolen by Chinese hackers. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks about the Chinese hack of the computer system of the Office of Personnel Management, Friday, June 5, 2015, during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Graphic shows details of recent notable data breaches by organization; 3c x 6 inches; 146 mm x 152 mm;
FILE - This Feb. 24, 2015, file photo, shows the Homeland Security Department headquarters in northwest Washington. The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement Thursday, June 4, 2015, that data from the Office of Personnel Management and the Interior Department had been hacked. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
The American flag is reflected in a window at the Theodore Roosevelt Building, headquarters of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, June 5, 2015. The disclosure by U.S. officials that Chinese hackers stole records of as many as 4 million government workers is now being linked to the thefts of personal information from health-care companies. The hackers, thought to have links to the Chinese government, got into the OPM computer system late last year, according to one U.S. official. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Vehicles drive past the Theodore Roosevelt Building, headquarters of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, June 5, 2015. The disclosure by U.S. officials that Chinese hackers stole records of as many as 4 million government workers is now being linked to the thefts of personal information from health-care companies. The hackers, thought to have links to the Chinese government, got into the OPM computer system late last year, according to one U.S. official. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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During that process, officials "identified archived records containing additional fingerprint data not previously analyzed," increasing the estimated number of people who had fingerprint data stolen, the OPM statement said.

OPM downplayed the danger of stolen fingerprint records, saying the ability to misuse the data is currently limited. But it acknowledged the threat could increase over time as technology evolves.

"Therefore, an interagency working group with expertise in this area ... will review the potential ways adversaries could misuse fingerprint data now and in the future," it said.

The group includes members of the intelligence community as well as the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon.

"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 said.

The Defense Department and OPM are working together to begin mailing notifications to the people whose information was stolen, the OPM statement said.

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