WASHINGTON — Hackers who breached US government databases stole personal information from background checks of 21.5 million people, officials said on Thursday following an investigation into the massive attack.
An update from the government's Office of Personnel Management said those affected were 19.7 million who underwent a background investigation, and 1.8 million others, mostly spouses or cohabitants of applicants for government jobs.
The massive figure adds to the gravity of the breach, which prompted a series of hearings in Congress and widespread criticism of the state of US cyber-defences.
Officials said last month 4.2 million personnel records were breached in a separate attack affecting current, former and prospective federal employees.
OPM director Katherine Archuleta said 3.6 million of those whose background checks were stolen were also in the group whose personnel records were breached, thus bringing the number of individuals affected in total to 22.1 million.
The investigation relates to "the second of two separate but related cybersecurity incidents" affecting federal databases, Archuleta told reporters in a conference call.
She said that in addition to sensitive social security numbers, the attackers likely obtained data on health, financial, criminal and family history of people who sought government jobs requiring a security clearance.
Some 1.1 million fingerprints were also stolen.
An OPM statement noted that for anyone who underwent a background investigation in 2000 or afterwards "it is highly likely that the individual is impacted by this cyber breach".
Archuleta said there was "no information to suggest any misuse" of the data, but that the government would be offering free monitoring to those affected to guard against fraud or identity theft. — AFP