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OPM Security Improves, But Many Issues Still Unresolved: GAO

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has improved its security posture since the data breaches disclosed in 2015, but many issues are still unresolved, according to a report published this week by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

In June 2015, OPM revealed that malicious actors had gained access to systems storing the personnel records of roughly 4.2 million federal employees. One month later, the agency reported that information on background investigations for 21.5 million people was also exposed in a separate but related breach.

The GAO has conducted several reviews of OPM security since these incidents and made a total of 80 recommendations for improving the organization’s security posture.

According to the GAO, as of September 20 the agency had implemented 51 of the 80 recommendations and it plans on implementing another 25 by the end of 2018. Another three should be implemented by the end of fiscal year 2019. However, one recommendation, referring to the deployment of a security tool on contractor workstations, will not be implemented.

“The agency asserted that it has compensating controls in place to address the intent of this recommendation, but has not provided evidence to us of these controls,” the GAO report reads.

The GAO says the agency has not provided sufficient evidence that four recommendations made in May 2016 have been implemented. This includes enhancing security plans, updating remedial action plans for certain systems, performing a comprehensive security control assessment, and tracking specialized training.

A report from August 2016 makes 62 recommendations, of which OPM had apparently failed to implement 16 by September 20, 2018. This includes issues related to multiple people using the same admin accounts, procedures for the use of special privileges on a key system, encrypting passwords, and installing the latest updates on network devices supporting a high-impact system.

OPM has also failed to take action on six issues highlighted in an August 2017 report from the GAO, including resetting all passwords after the breach, ensuring that critical patches are quickly deployed, regularly evaluating account privileges, and assessing controls on selected systems.

The agency has also failed to demonstrate that it has improved its process for validating corrective actions, and that it has developed training requirements for staff using monitoring tools.

“Implementing all of the remaining open recommendations expeditiously is essential to OPM ensuring that appropriate security controls are in place and operating as intended,” the GAO said in its report. “Until OPM implements these recommendations, its systems and information will be at increased risk of unauthorized access, use, disclosure, modification, or disruption.”

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.