The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Wednesday confirmed a data breach involving the personally identifiable information of more than 240,000 current and former DHS employees.
The agency disclosed few details about how the information was compromised, though it stressed that the data was not stolen in a cyberattack, nor was it exposed to malicious activity. Instead, the files were discovered in the possession of a former DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) employee during an ongoing criminal investigation last May, the agency said.
The identity of the former employee was not disclosed, and the focus of the criminal investigation is unknown.
DHS employees whose information had been compromised - names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, positions, grades, and duty stations - received notification letters today, the agency said.
Why did it take roughly seven months to notify the affected employees? "The investigation was complex given its close connection to an ongoing criminal investigation," the agency said on its website. "From May through November 2017, DHS conducted a thorough privacy investigation, extensive forensic analysis of the compromised data, an in-depth assessment of the risk to affected individuals, and comprehensive technical evaluations of the data elements exposed."
According to DHS, in addition to employee data, a wealth of investigative data was also put at risk. Those files include information on "subjects, witnesses, and complainants who were both DHS employees and non-DHS employees." The amount of personally identifiable information in the investigative records "varies for each individual depending on the documentation and evidence collected for a given case," DHS said.
The data compromised belonging to "non-DHS employees" (meaning, presumably, private individuals) may include: Social Security numbers, alien registration numbers, dates of birth, email addresses, phone numbers, residential addresses, as well as any "personal information provided in interviews" to DHS Office of Inspector General agents between 2002 and 2014.
For DHS employees at least, the files did not include any information about employees' spouses or other family members.
While DHS employees have been notified directly regarding the breach, anyone who has reason to believe their information may have been included in the compromised investigative files have been encouraged to contact AllClear ID (855-260-2767) to receive information about credit monitoring and identity protection services.
At the time of the breach, retired USMC General John F. Kelly was chief of DHS. He now serves as President Donald Trump's chief of staff. Trump's former deputy chief of staff, Kirstjen Nielsen, took over as head of DHS last month.