Three-quarters of US OPM hack victims still in dark

Millions More Americans Hit by Government Hack

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Fewer than a quarter of 21 million federal workers hit by a major computer hack have been officially told that their personal information was compromised, six months after the breach was detected, a U.S. government official said on Tuesday.

About 5 million notifications about the hack have been sent out so far, a spokesperson for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) told Reuters in an email.

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The slowness of the notification process underscores Washington's struggles in dealing with its computer vulnerabilities, a growing problem that the Obama administration has been trying to address.

After it fell victim to two successive cyberattacks, both begun in 2014 and revealed earlier this year, OPM was roundly criticized by lawmakers for its response.

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Three-quarters of US OPM hack victims still in dark
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)
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)
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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OPM had no immediate additional comment on the matter on Tuesday, or on its expected notification timetable ahead.

Officials have privately blamed China for the OPM breach.

The Defense Information Systems Agency in September awarded a $1.8 million contract to Advanced Onion, a technology firm, to help locate and notify victims of the OPM breach, which exposed names, addresses, Social Security numbers and other sensitive information of current and former federal employees and contractors. About 5.6 million fingerprints were pilfered, an upwardly revised number from an initial estimate of 1.1 million.

The notification process for the smaller of the two breaches, which affected 4.2 million individuals, raised alarm when victims were asked to follow instructions online in prompts that some said resembled phishing scams. Others complained of long wait times with support call centers. That episode prompted the government to pursue Advanced Onion to deal with the larger breach, a process that took several months.

It has been six months since the larger OPM hack was detected, and more than a year and a half since hackers first infiltrated the agency's databanks.

In July, OPM Director Katherine Archuleta resigned amid growing scrutiny of the agency's cybersecurity practices and its ability to respond to the breaches.

Officials have offered three years of credit monitoring and identify-theft monitoring services to hacked employees.

Despite the precaution, a prominent cybersecurity researcher said on Monday there was no indication any hacked OPM data was for sale on the black market, reaffirming the likelihood that the hackers were working for a foreign country.

RELATED: Notable data breaches

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Notable data breaches in the US recently
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Three-quarters of US OPM hack victims still in dark
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19: A detail of the Ashley Madison website on August 19, 2015 in London, England. Hackers who stole customer information from the cheating site AshleyMadison.com dumped 9.7 gigabytes of data to the dark web on Tuesday fulfilling a threat to release sensitive information including account details, log-ins and credit card details, if Avid Life Media, the owner of the website didn't take Ashley Madison.com offline permanently. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Katherine Archuleta, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), speaks during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the OPM data breach in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, June 24, 2015. U.S. senators said yesterday they doubt the government's personnel office understands the breadth of a computer hack that exposed the records of more than 4 million federal workers, or that the agency can stop another breach. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via 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)
SCHAUMBURG, IL - AUGUST 04: A statue of a horse stands at the entrance to a P.F. Chang's restaurant on August 4, 2014 in Schaumburg, Illinois. P.F. Chang's China Bistro Ltd. said today that the company experienced a data breach involving customers' credit and debit card information which affected 33 restaurants in 16 states, including the Schaumburg, Illinois location. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PORTLAND, ME - AUGUST 15: Shaws on Congress Street on Friday, July 15, 2014. Shaws parent company is investigating a possible data breach. (Photo by Logan Werlinger/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
COLMA, CA - APRIL 18: Customers enter a Michaels art and crafts store on April 18, 2014 in Colma, California. Michaels, the largest arts and crafts chain in the U.S., announced that an estimated 2.6 million cards used at its stores across the country may have been affected by a security breach. Aaron Brothers, a subsidiary of Michaels, was also affected by the breach. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
CORAL GABLES, FL - FEBRUARY 28: A checkout keypad is seen at a Sears store on February 28, 2014 in Coral Gables, Florida. According to reports the U.S. Secret Service is investigating a possible digital attack at Sears Holdings Corp. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A couple of shoppers leave a Target store on a rainy afternoon in Alhambra, California on December19, 2013, as the US retail giant said some 40 million customers may have had bank card data compromised by hackers who broke into its database as holiday shopping got underway. Target said there had been 'unauthorized access' to its payment system in US stores affecting credit and debit cards with approximately 40 million credit and debit cards possibly affected by the breach between November 27 and December 15, the company said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / Frederic J. Brown (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
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