Super-Old Government Computers Make Pretty Easy Hacking Targets

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to learning center student Angelica Chavez Wednesday, Sept. 11, 1996 in the Boyle Heights section in Los Angeles. Chavez was explaining a new computer program to the first lady during her Los Angeles visit. In a speech at the center later in the day, Mrs. Clinton said it will take an electronic village to provide eduction in the next century. (AP Photo/Rene Macura)
A photo illustration of what OPM computers look like.Photo: AP Photo/Rene Macura

Office of Personnel Management officials headed to the Hill today to discuss the very, very bad data breach that exposed the social security numbers and blackmail-worthy security clearance secrets of millions of federal employees on Tuesday, and admitted that the information hadn’t been encrypted because the agency’s computer systems were just too darn old. Sometimes decades old. There were no IT security staff employed at OPM until 2013. Tamagotchis were probably more advanced than some of the systems guarding this sensitive data. These revelations did not make House Oversight and Government and Reform chair Jason Chaffetz happy. “You failed, utterly and totally,” he said in today’s hearing. “Your systems were vulnerable! The data was not encrypted!” OPM had asked for more money to make some of these changes next year — funds that evaporated a bit during sequestration. A few senators are trying to make sure that the money gets allocated soon so OPM workers no longer have to use computers that make Windows 98 look revolutionary.

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A photo illustration of how OPM computers make the government feel.Photo: PAUL J. RICHARDS