OPM Hack: Dust Settling Edition

We’re as distressed as you concerning the loss of Social Security Numbers and personally identifiable information (PII) belonging to 21.5 million people that resulted from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) data breach.

If we were to seek solace in the fact that it is unclear whether the information – including fingerprints – now in the hands of state or non-state hackers is harmful, we had better seek such comfort elsewhere.  That’s because the joint OPM-Department of Defenese (DoD) incident analysis still underway just revealed that the fingerprint component of the breach is far larger than expected. Their take on the inquiry:

During that process, OPM and DoD identified archived records containing additional fingerprint data not previously analyzed.  Of the 21.5 million individuals whose Social Security Numbers and other sensitive information were impacted by the breach, the subset of individuals whose fingerprints have been stolen has increased from a total of approximately 1.1 million to approximately 5.6 million.  This does not increase the overall estimate of 21.5 million individuals impacted by the incident.

This is what happens when a stockpile of anything valuable is centrally stored. Every heist movie you’ve seen illustrates the appeal of strategizing to get behind the security architecture of a warehouse, vault, museum, and the like. If the gold in Fort Knox were to be distributed as a gram of gold in homes around the US, then the world’s foremost source of intrigue concerning the precious metal would no longer be a target.

That’s what we’ve done at HYPR.

We leverage trusted platform modules (TPMs) in modern desktop and mobile devices to ensure that biometrics are never stored on a central server to eliminate the allure of a hefty payoff for hackers like those responsible for OPM breach. With HYPR biometric tokenization, user credentials are never stored in the cloud, rather they are securely stored in safe zones within the chips that operate the devices.  During authentication, communication with these biometric templates occurs using compliant hardware and client-layer software that protects the templates from leaving a device. What’s more, the added protective layer is that to authenticate, a cryptographic signature not containing a literal biometric template (e.g. fingerprint, voice, face pattern) must be signed in the cloud so that risk related to hardware and client software is mitigated.

So as the government, which we do feel means to do its best, continues its investigation into just how severe a privacy, economic, and national security crisis the OPM hack has wrought, we’d like to remind them, enterprises, and individuals that a hack of this kind could be avoided simply by distributing risk and putting hackers out of business. After all, forcing thieves to go door to door for a gold earring would frustrate burglars and alter their operating model.