If you have a student loan, your personal information may be at risk. That’s what Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah is saying about a potential security breach at the Department of Education. He pointed out that “almost half of America’s record are sitting at the Department of Education since they administer more than a $1 trillion in assets.” A large proportion of that information is handled by contractors, and is a prime target for a cyber attack.
Much of the federal government’s business is done with the help of private-sector contractors. In the past, different contractor’s security blunders have provided an easy back way into government databases. The now globally recognized Edward Snowden was a federal contractor when he leaked millions of classified documents to the public. Yet another contractor was responsible for the security flaw that led hackers to compromise the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management’s database. That hack leaked the personal information of over 20 million people. Unfortunately, I was one of those people caught in the crossfire, even though I have never been a federal employee.
Several years ago, I applied for jobs through the federal government’s website, USA Jobs. Much like all my friends that applied blindly through that website, I never even got an interview for a work position (I only actually know of one person who ever was hired through that website). Eventually, I forgot about ever having applied to those jobs, and moved on with my life. That all changed last spring, when I immediately suspected that I was included in the massive hack at the Office of Personnel Management.
Months later, I received a letter in the mail confirming my fate. The letter read: “we have determined that your Social Security Number and other personal information was included in the intrusion.”
The letter went on to explain that hackers could now potentially have my “address, date, place of birth, residency, educational and employment history, personal foreign travel history, and information about immediate family as well as business and personal acquaintances.” It’s still nightmarish to this day to know that unknown foreign hackers have all of this information about me and there’s little I can do about it.
As a consolation, the letter offered me free credit and identity monitoring services through ID experts for three years. Shockingly, there were victims who lost much, much more, including their fingerprints. There’s now a class action lawsuit that’s seeking restitution for all the victims of cyber theft. While I have yet to experience any identity theft, I log into my free account regularly to check to see if anything fishy is up. Needless to say, it’s unsettling that government ineptitude led to me losing my identity.
Congressman Chaffetz’s warning about losing personal information attached to your student loans should frighten millennials, because we hold the bulk of student debt. The information that we handed over in good faith to get our loans was given to the government with the expectation of privacy.
The Department of Education should immediately strengthen their security protocols, and federal contractors government-wide need to be certain as possible that their systems cannot be comprised. Take it from me–having your personal information stolen by cyber pirates lurking deep in the bowels of the dark-web is not a pleasant experience.
Photo by Taylor White
David is the Editor of Bold. He's especially passionate about millennial economic empowerment. A former local news reporter, David is originally from the Little Havana area in Miami, and later became a pioneer resident of the Disney-inspired town of Celebration, Florida. David holds a Master’s in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.