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Biden Department of Transportation investigating breach involving 237,000 employees' data

By Sarah May
|
May 13, 2023

In what arguably represents a significant security failure on the part of the Biden administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) revealed on Friday that a data breach may have impacted upwards of 237,000 current and former employees of the federal government, as Reuters reports.

According to the department, the breach involved the systems used for processing TRANServe benefits meant to reimburse federal employees for certain commuting expenses.

DOT Reveals Breach

According to Reuters, the DOT informed Congress of the data breach in an email claiming that the agency has “isolated the breach to certain systems at the department used for administrative functions, such as employee transit benefits processing.”

Reports indicate that the breach ultimately affected 114,000 current federal employees and roughly 123,000 former workers.

The DOT told Reuters that no transportation safety systems were implicated in the breach but added that it was still unknown who might be to blame for the incident or whether information gleaned from the hack was used for criminal purposes.

In the meantime, an investigation has been launched, and access to the transit benefit processing system has been frozen until assurances have been made that it is fully secure.

Systems Failures Raise Concerns

This is not the first time the Transportation Department, and its head, Secretary Pete Buttigieg, have come under fire for serious computer system or security failures, as Bloomberg notes.

In January, thousands of flights across the country were grounded for several hours when the Federal Aviation Administration experienced an unexpected computer outage, as NBC News reported at the time.

Ultimately, blame was assigned to a corrupted file that impacted by the primary and backup Notice to Air Missions system, which is used to send critical information to pilots.

Though Buttigieg pledged to probe the root causes of the issue to discover how it was “possible for there to be this level of disruption,” Sen. Ted. Cruz (R-TX) declared, “the FAA's inability to keep an important safety system up and running is completely unacceptable and just the latest example of dysfunction within the Department of Transportation.”

Costly Exposures

The Federal Times reported late last year just how costly data breaches at the federal, state and, and local levels truly are, putting the tally over the past eight years at roughly $26 billion.

Citing a report produced by consumer-aid website Comparitech, the outlet indicated that the two largest government data breaches in the last ten years – one at the U.S. Postal Service and one at the Office of Personnel Management – resulted in 82 million compromised records in total.

Adding to the seriousness of the situation, the report also found that 822 individual breach incidents spanning all levels of government jeopardized a staggering 175 million records.

Though federal agencies in particular have been placing an enhanced emphasis on strengthening information security, there is clearly much work to be done.

Weaknesses Persist

The Federal Times noted that according to the Government Accountability Office, substantial vulnerabilities remain in federal agencies' ability to fully secure the massive amounts of personally identifiable information they possess.

Felicia Purifoy, chief human capital officer at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has stated, “The cyber threat landscape is getting more complex, dynamic and dangerous every day.”

“At the same time, we have a global shortage of cyber talent that affects every organization, including the federal government,” Purifoy added.

Notably, the most recent federal appropriations bill provides funding of approximately $3 billion to the agency, though that represents just a minor increase from last year's spending level, calling into question whether the security threats that exist are viewed as the top priority many argue they should be.