Hackers have tapped into personal information of more than 46,000 veterans kept by the Department of Veterans Affairs, gaining access to data such as Social Security numbers, VA officials said Monday.
Unauthorized persons accessed a VA Financial Services Center online application in an attempt to steal payments from VA to private physicians who treat veterans in the community, according to the department.
As soon as the breach was detected, the application was shut down and actions "were taken by the department to prevent and mitigate any potential harm to those individuals," VA officials said in a release.
"A preliminary review indicates these unauthorized users gained access to the application to change financial information and divert payments from VA by using social engineering techniques and exploiting authentication protocols," the statement read.
VA is notifying affected veterans and survivors of deceased veterans by mail of the data breach and will provide credit monitoring services to those whose Social Security numbers may have been compromised.
Instructions for receiving credit monitoring will be included in the letter to affected veterans. If a former service member does not receive a letter, their information was not compromised, according to VA.
The breach is the largest in the past decade, affecting roughly the same amount of veterans in five separate breaches since 2011.
The largest compromise of personal information ever reported at VA occurred in 2006 when a laptop and hard drive with the personal information of 26.5 million veterans, spouses and active-duty service members was reported stolen. The devices containing the information were later found at the home of an employee who had permission to work from home.
The affected application will remain offline until the VA's Office of Information Technology conducts a security review of the hack, according to VA.
VA did not disclose whether the hackers succeeded in diverting any funds. Officials did not immediately respond to questions about the breach.
Veterans or next-of-kin who are notified that their information was potentially compromised can contact the VA FSC customer help desk by emailing VAFSCVeteransSupport@va.gov.