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US contractor firm that vetted Snowden suffers major breach; data likely snatched

A major contractor of the US Dept. of Homeland Security suffers a major breach, months after it was accused of faking hundreds of thousands of background checks.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor
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Image: US Government/Dept. of Homeland Security

A contractor working for the US Dept. of Homeland Security has suffered a data breach, which likely led to the leak of personal employee information.

USIS, a private company that conducts background checks on behalf of the government agency, has been suspended until the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducts its investigation, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

Other agencies have also suspended their work with the company out of "caution," the newspaper said, citing senior Obama administration officials.

Homeland Security said after forensic analysis that some of its personnel had been affected, leading to concerns that employee data may have been stolen.

It's unclear if that affects those who are vetted by the company.

Although the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team, known as US-CERT, is carrying out an assessment of the breach, the cause of the data leak is not being speculated.

The Falls Church, Virginia-based company is said to handle the overspill of background checks on behalf of the US government. While the Office of Personnel Management vets the bulk of its likely employees, other government departments — like Homeland Security — employ third-party companies to assist.

USIS came under fire earlier this year after it came to light that it conducted background checks on Edward Snowden, the former US government contractor who leaked tens of thousands of classified documents to Glenn Greenwald, who published details of the National Security Agency's surveillance capabilities.

The company was also accused by the US Department of Justice of faking more than half a million background checks, including the so-called Washington Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis.

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