The fallout from the epic hack on the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) continues. Since the congressional oversight hearings in June 2015, OPM Director Katherine Archuleta resigned; the government was hit with a number of lawsuits from “victims”; OPM hired a cybersecurity advisor, Clifton Triplett, and increased its IT “modernization” budget from $31 million to $87 million, with another $21 million scheduled for 2016; and the Obama administration announced Friday that OPM will no longer conduct background investigations. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security also released a “cyber alert” outlining a collective analysis and lessons learned from the OPM hack.
The memo was distributed only to cleared contractors by the Defense Security Service, and it includes a number of recommendations for security efforts going forward. While the memo does not name OPM specifically, according to an FCW article, the timing of its release and the recommendations included reportedly coincide with the OPM breach directly.
At the forefront is the recommendation for a segmented identity management system, which, according to the memo, could have limited the severity of the OPM breach. From the FCW article:
“When an organization’s network is not segmented from others, this could mean hundreds of sub-networks are affected versus one,” the memo states. Privileged access controls “would have helped detect the intrusion earlier and made it significantly more difficult for the actor to spread across the network.”
While the entire memo could not be located, FCW did list a number of security recommendations from it, including:
- Enabling a personal firewall at agency workstations
- Monitoring users’ online habits and blocking potentially malicious sites
- Employing encryption for data at rest and in transit
- and Investigating “outbound network traffic observed over TCP port 53 that does not conform to the DNS protocol.”
Hopefully there are more recommendations than these few in the memo. To make up for the lack of the full list, here is a list of learning lessons from current events and studies conducted over the past couple years:
- Identity management should be priority one:
While this space with IT security has grown tremendously in the last few years, it remains a nonetheless crucial part to securing an organization. Especially if said organization outsources components of work to third-party vendors, like in the case of OPM.
- Keep infrastructure patched and updated:
The Cisco Annual Security Report noted that of 115,000 devices Cisco researchers scanned, 92 percent of them were susceptible to known vulnerabilities. The FBI and DHS memo about the OPM hack names “convenience” and “accessibility” specifically as aids to the hack.
- Full disk encryption for all endpoints:
A recent report from Sophos showed many companies are not going through the effort of encrypting company data, nearly 70 percent in some industries.
- Monitor DNS traffic and check against any and all available threat intelligence feeds:
The same Cisco annual report mentioned earlier also found that many organizations are not monitoring DNS traffic, despite its wealth of information about user behavior and possible indicators of compromise.
- Enable and enforce strong password management:
SplashData recently released a study that found the worst possible passwords —like ‘123456’ — are still being used regularly. Same as they were since 2011.
- Educate employees to spot phishing attempts:
Despite its long history in the hacking toolkit, phishing continues to be an effective way to gain access to company networks. Employee training has proved effective in helping the efforts of IT and security orgs.
- Manage third-party vendor and contractor access:
According to congressional hearing testimony, hackers gained access to OPM networks through a third-party contractor, which is unfortunately common.
This list might be a good start, and would keep an IT organization busy for months if not years. But it’s in no way exhaustive. What would you add to OPM’s to-do list to keep it more secure?