Although it took several months since the news first broke, late last week I received official confirmation from the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that my identity is included in the second breach of their system data. I am now twice blessed.
Unlike my unwitting participation in the first breach, when individual personnel records of active and retire federal employees were stolen, this second hack resulted in the theft of employee background investigation reports going back to the year 2000. I now have to accept the fact that in addition to my name and Social Security number, highly placed authorities in Beijing might also be aware of my average college standardized test scores, the embarrassment of not getting that raise in 1988, or perhaps even my struggle with lactose intolerance.
Honestly, I didn’t think this particular episode would involve little ‘ol me. I started my career with the federal government back in 1983, and the closest I’ve ever gotten to any matter relating to national security is when I once had to overnight a book on Lake Superior fishing to the FBI Academy Library in Quantico, Virginia. I remember at the time wondering if this might involve some huge criminal investigation involving those unscrupulous Canadian pirates who terrorize the Great Lakes and were no doubt responsible for sinking the Edmund Fitzgerald. I distinctly recall going out after work with friends that day, having several beers, and never thinking about it… ever again.
As a critical civil servant protecting our nation’s security and freedom, I was always more Cliff Clavin than Jack Bauer.
It all therefore comes as a bit of a surprise to be included in this second OPM hack. I did, however, change jobs in the federal government in 2002, when I transferred from the executive branch to the judiciary. In reading through background information about the hack, it seems likely that what my new Chinese benefits administrators now have at their disposal about me is a Standard Form 85, the aptly named “Questionnaire for Non-Sensitive Positions.” On that form I provided my SSN, employment and educational histories, a listing of immediate family and personal acquaintances, and all of my former addresses.
The Walter Mitty side of my personality has constructed the most intriguing yarn in which one of Xi Jinping’s morning briefings includes my CV. Forget that dude from Seal Team Six, this retired law librarian has got all the dope you’d ever want. In fact speaking of dope, SF 85 also asks for my previous recreational drug use too. I’m sure at the time I tried my best to answer that question correctly, if remaining brain cells cooperated anyway.
To make up for the compromising of my personal information, OPM is offering three years of yet another round of identity theft and credit monitoring services. This goes along with the 18 months that was previously offered after the first breach. I would have thought they could have just added on to the time already given, but no, a totally new company has been selected for this second breach. I may be a man who is exposed and vulnerable, but I’m awfully rich in short-term protection at the moment.
Along with the Blue Cross Anthem hack, for which I was also offered credit monitoring, I now have three different companies looking out for my best interests. Or covering the ass of those entities who weren’t doing so in the first place. You decide which.
This is the landscape under which we are all now operating. Businesses and institutions whom we once held with some level of esteem carelessly leak data about us because their systems are vulnerable. This happens because of ignorance and ineptitude, or more specifically in the government’s case, because Congress won’t adequately fund IT budgets in an appropriate manner. As a victim and a blogger, I’m allowed to point fingers with a smattering of personal credibility and bluster. Congressman only get the bluster since they actually hold the purse strings that could correct some of these vulnerabilities.
Whether it’s the government or your financial institution making you feel vulnerable, there is at least a modicum of good news. According to the December issue of Money Magazine (“Online Crooks Learn New Tricks,” p. 64), the demand for stolen personal data on the black market actually dropped 75% in 2015 because there’s so much of it already out there. Imagine that. Not only has the price of gas come down dramatically, but so has information about you! So rest easy, the laws of supply and demand are protecting us.
I am hopeful that somehow my identity and credit can remain safe. As a friend of mine recently admitted regarding the ambiguous security of his own e-commerce activities, he’s just not willing to go back to the 1970’s and give up the conveniences to which he’s already grown accustomed. I too have to agree that I enjoy the benefits of online bill paying, checking my mutual fund and 401(k) balances, and the ability to buy a copy of The Kentucky Fried Movie on Amazon because of a 2:30 a.m. bout of insomnia. The Internet is both a boon and scourge all at the same time.
Somewhere out there in the dark alleys and dodgy corridors of the cyber underworld, my vital information sits on the hard drives and servers of some very questionable characters. There’s not much I can do about it except be vigilant, regularly watch over all of my financial accounts, and certainly take advantage of the credit monitoring offers being given by my less than helpful benefactors (only three years of coverage, seriously OPM?!!).
It’s no small wonder then that I’m constantly craving pork lo mein and fried dumplings lately.
Until next time…