In reaction to a data breach of four million current and former federalemployees, a security expert said the incident is proof thattraditional methods are not providing secured, privilegedadministrator access.

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A DHA statement blamed Chinese hackers for the cyber break-in of U.S. government personnel office computernetworks, in which identifying information belonging to the Officeof Personnel Management and the Interior Department was stolen.

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A statement from the OPM read, “Since the intrusion, OPM hasinstituted additional network security precautions, including:Restricting remote access for network administrators andrestricting network administration functions remotely.”

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Matt Dircks, CEO of Bomgar, a remote IT access and privilegedaccess management provider for enterprises and government, said,“This is yet another proof point that traditional remote accessmethods aren't providing the traceability and controls needed toensure privileged administrator access is secure.”

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Bomgar serves 12 of the 15 Departments of the U.S. FederalExecutive Branch and 11 of 21 U.S. National Laboratories.

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Dircks believes VPNs are attractive targets for hackers becausethey carry sensitive information over insecure networks and oftenprovide full access into an internal network. Compromising that VPNremote access method means the hacker also has full access to theinternal network.

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“When an organization's only response to control access is bysignificantly restricting it, it negatively impacts productivityand operations,” Dircks said. “In this new paradigm, security teamsneed to be proactively controlling and monitoring access tocritical systems from internal and external privileged users.”

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This includes managing which sensitive systems they have accessto and when, receiving real-time access notifications, monitoringactivity, and capturing an unalterable audit trail and recordingsof activity for later forensic use.

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Dircks stated that while the exact intentions of this hack arenot known, the Office of Personnel Management breach is likely thework of the same group and the nation-state responsible for thebreaches at Anthem and Primera.

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“Clearly, with sensitive information such as names, SocialSecurity numbers, and other personal identifying information fromfederal employees in play, their usage in social engineeringschemes or blackmail is quite obvious,” he said. “Thesestate-sponsored hacking groups are so nefariously clever andwell-funded, what really worries me is the not so immediatelyobvious outcomes these cybercriminals hope to achieve.”

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In July 2014, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew urgedfinancial institutions and firms to take critical steps to betterprotect consumers and strengthen the nation's defenses againstcybersecurity thefts, disruptions and attacks. Specifically, hecalled on the U.S. financial sector to improve cybersecurity byusing the administration's new cybersecurity framework for theirsystems and as a way to evaluate outside vendors.

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Secretary Lew called on financial firms to implement the NISTFramework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity. Thisframework, released in February 2014, provides a blueprint toevaluate, maintain and improve the resiliency of their computersystems.

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“The consequences of cyber incidents are serious,” Lew said inhis remarks. “When credit card data is stolen, it disturbs livesand damages consumer confidence. Successful attacks on ourfinancial system would compromise market confidence, jeopardize theintegrity of data and pose a threat to financial stability.”

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Whether the OPM-hacked systems used a NIST framework has not yetbeen revealed.

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Roy Urrico

Roy W. Urrico specializes in articles about financial technology and services for Credit Union Times, as well as ghostwriting, copywriting, and case studies. Also: writer/editor of a semi-annual newsletter for Association for Financial Technology since 1997 and history projects funded by the U.S Interior Department, National Park Service and Warren County (N.Y.).