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Federal personnel office chief quits after cyberattack

Jonathan S. Landay Tribune News Service

WASHINGTON – The embattled head of the office that oversees federal job applicant background checks resigned Friday, a day after she disclosed that the personal data of more than 21 million Americans was stolen in one of the gravest cyberattacks launched against a government computer system.

Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta, who had resisted demands that she quit, personally submitted her resignation to President Barack Obama, who accepted it.

The penetration of OPM’s computer system, and a smaller but related hack of a database that was revealed last month, underscored the vulnerabilities of government computers and raised deep fears that the pilfered personal data could be used to blackmail federal workers and contractors with top-secret clearances.

U.S. officials have said the attacks on the OPM computer system appeared to have originated in China, although the investigation is expected to take some time to complete.

The pilfered data, which was not encrypted, included Social Security numbers, residency, health, employment and education histories and information on family members and friends. In the cases of 19.7 million people who had applied for security clearances, the data also included highly sensitive material on criminal records, drug use and love lives.

“It will take years before the full security repercussions may be known, and the intelligence community is already taking steps to address any new vulnerabilities posed by the compromise of this data,” said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest insisted Archuleta had resigned “of her own volition.” He declined to say whether any of Obama’s personal data was swept up and who the administration suspects was responsible for the breach. He also refused to discuss what the administration believes the hackers intend to do with the stolen information.

“Obviously, we want to make sure that those who may be affected by this breach get as much protection and support that we can offer them,” Earnest said.

OPM will provide those affected with credit reporting and identity theft prevention services, and it is setting up a call center from which they could obtain advice, he said.

Archuleta resigned a day after she disclosed the theft of the personal information of 21.5 million federal job applicants and current and past employees whose backgrounds her agency reviewed. At that time, she said she had no intention of submitting to calls for her to quit from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Her disclosure of the massive breach followed the revelation last month of a separate but related theft of the Social Security numbers and other information of 4.2 million current and former federal workers that was stored in a database maintained at the Department of the Interior.

Word of Archuleta’s resignation was applauded by members of Congress who had been pushing for her departure, charging that she had ignored warnings from her agency’s own inspector general to implement protective upgrades to OPM’s computer systems.

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