Security Experts:

US Toughens Background Check Process After Major Hack

The US government said Friday it was revamping its background check process for federal employees and contractors with a more secure database, following a major hack disclosed last year.

A new government entity will be created to conduct the checks, and the Department of Defense will provide security for the data gathered in the process, officials said.

The announcement came in response to disclosures last year that hackers accessed some 20 million personnel records for US government employees and contractors, including sensitive personal data in some cases gathered from background checks.

Several analysts have linked the hack to China, but US officials have avoided directly blaming Beijing for the breach. The new background check system will take over many functions from the Office of Personnel Management, which was roundly criticized for weak security following news of the breach.

The new "National Background Investigations Bureau," with a presidentially appointed director, will take over the role of managing checks.

The new entity will be housed within OPM but the Defense Department will keep the data secure.

"This entity will have a considerable amount of operational autonomy," said Michael Daniel, the White House cybersecurity coordinator, on a conference call with reporters.

"The Department of Defense will be providing the cybersecurity for this new entity," Daniel said, adding that the revamped process would "represent real change from how we are doing business now."

Officials said that in addition to hardened cybersecurity, the new system would allow for an evaluation of how much data is stored online for accessibility and what is kept offline, inaccessible to hackers.

Officials said the administration's budget calls for $95 million to upgrade the computer systems for the new initiative.

The disclosure of the breach last year rocked the federal government, revealing one of the worst cyber failures in the public sector.

The news led to congressional hearings and prompted the resignation of the OPM director.

The administration launched a government-wide review of cybersecurity last year as well as the background investigation process.

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