360° Coverage : AP Exclusive: Health law cybersecurity challenges

2 Updates

AP Exclusive: Health law cybersecurity challenges

Feb 25 2014, 1:54pm CST | by

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the Obama administration raced to meet its self-imposed deadline for online health insurance markets, security experts working for the government worried that...

Filed under: news

 
 
 

29 weeks ago

AP Exclusive: Health law cybersecurity challenges

Feb 25 2014, 1:54pm CST | by

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the Obama administration raced to meet its self-imposed deadline for online health insurance markets, security experts working for the government worried that state computer systems could become a back door for hackers.

Documents provided to The Associated Press show that more than two-thirds of state systems that were supposed to tap into federal computers to verify sensitive personal information for coverage were initially rated as "high risk" for security problems.

Back-door attacks have been in the news, since the hackers who stole millions of customers' credit and debit card numbers from Target are believed to have gained access through a contractor's network.

The administration says the documents offer only a partial and "outdated" snapshot of an improving situation, and the security problems cited were either resolved or are being addressed through specific actions. No successful cyber-attacks have taken place, officials say.

However, the issues detailed in documents and emails provided by the House Oversight and Government Reform committee reveal broader concerns than the federal Health and Human Services department has previously acknowledged.

They show a frenzied behind-the-scenes juggling act by officials and contractors as the Oct. 1 deadline for new health insurance exchanges loomed. Instead of providing a showcase for President Barack Obama, the launch of his health care law became a case study in how big technology projects can go off the rails.

In order to connect to federal computers, state and other outside systems must undergo a security review and receive an "authority to connect."

With the health care law, states needed approval to connect to a new federal data hub, an electronic back room that pings Social Security, the Internal Revenue Service, Homeland Security to verify personal details about people applying for government-subsidized insurance. The hub handles sensitive information, including income, immigration status and Social Security numbers.

The documents showed a high-stakes decision-making process playing out against a backdrop of tension and uncertainty as the clock ran out. For example:

— In one email from Sept. 29, a Sunday two days before the launch, Teresa Fryer, chief information security officer for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, wrote of the state security approvals, "The front office is signing them whether or not they are a high risk." Her agency, known as CMS, also administers the health care law.

Two days earlier, in a separate document, CMS administrator Marilyn Tavenner approved nine states to connect although the approval document noted that "CMS views the October 1 connections to the nine states as a risk due to the fact that their documentation may not be submitted completely nor reviewed...by Oct. 1." Approval was contingent on states submitting proper documentation. The states were Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.

— A CMS PowerPoint presentation from Sept. 23 revealed huge differences in states' readiness. Some were already approved; others had security weaknesses that were well understood and being tackled. But there were also states where the federal government had little information on security preparations.

"CMS views these connections to states as a high risk due to the unknown nature of their systems," according to the presentation.

CMS officials contemplated whether their agency would have to accept risk on behalf of other federal government entities, including Social Security and the IRS.

—A federal contractor explicitly detailed the potential consequences of what he called an "elevated high risk."

Allowing states to connect without the appropriate review "introduces an unknown amount of risk" that could put the personal information of "potentially millions of users at risk of identity theft," not to mention exposing the program to fraud, contractor Ryan Brewer wrote to CMS security in a Sept. 18 email.

Brewer had formerly been in government, as top CMS information security officer. He is currently with the cybersecurity firm GrayScout. The administration says he had no direct knowledge of the status of state security information.

In a Feb. 20 letter to the oversight panel's chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the administration said many of the high-risk issues identified in the documents had a corrective action plan before states got approval to connect. Twelve states received temporary, 60-day permissions to connect before Oct. 1 because the administration had not completed full reviews.

Currently, 46 states and Washington, D.C., have full three-year permissions to connect, wrote HHS assistant secretary Jim Esquea.

"The administration has not been forthcoming with the American people about the serious security risks," Issa said in a statement. "Despite repeated assurances from HHS, the department appears to still be struggling with security concerns."

Cybersecurity consultant and author Theresa Payton, who reviewed the materials for the AP, said it's difficult to second-guess the administration's decisions. A phased rollout of the health care markets would have been a prudent way to keep risks manageable. But Payton, who was chief White House information officer for President George W. Bush, said federal agencies can face unique deadline pressures.

The administration should have found a way to let consumers know that the new online markets weren't quite ready for prime time, she said. "A customer education campaign on how to avoid fraud would have gone a long way."

Even top-performing states are not immune to problems. In a Jan. 10 email exchange, officials and contractors wondered whether they might have to disconnect California from federal computers after a website publicly disclosed that state's vulnerabilities.

"There are many security issues with the states' systems," a contractor wrote to CMS supervisors. "I would expect many more of the 'known' flaws to be posted in the near future."

The administration says officials quickly contacted California, and after learning that the state was addressing the issues, dropped any consideration of disconnecting.

Source: AP Business

 
Update
2

2 weeks ago

Khazanah throws MAS RM6b lifeline

Aug 29 2014 5:01pm CDT | Source: Business Times Singapore

August 30, 2014 1:15 AMKHAZANAH Nasional will inject RM6 billion (SS$2.4 billion) over three years to resuscitate loss-making Malaysia Airlines (MAS) under a recovery plan that includes even an Act of Parliament. Other key moves are migrating its operations, assets and liabilities to a new company (NewCo) and slashing the workforce of 20,000 by 30 pe ...
Source: Business Times Singapore   Full article at: Business Times Singapore
 

 
Update
1

2 weeks ago

MAS posts loss of RM307m for Q2

Aug 28 2014 5:00pm CDT | Source: Business Times Singapore

August 29, 2014 1:13 AMMALAYSIA Airlines (MAS) registered a loss of RM307 million (S$122 million) for the second quarter to end-June, but warned of worse to come in the second half when the "full financial impact of the double tragedies of MH370 and MH17" hits home ...
Source: Business Times Singapore   Full article at: Business Times Singapore
 

 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/31" rel="author">Associated Press</a>
The Associated Press (AP) is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering, supplying a steady stream of news to its members, international subscribers and commercial customers.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

Wild berry extract booster for pancreatic cancer drug
London, Sep 18 (IANS) A wild berry native to North America may strengthen the effectiveness of a chemotherapy drug commonly used to treat pancreatic cancer, reveals new research.
 
 
Male peacock doesn't sacrifice much to woo his lady
London, Sep 18 (IANS) The magnificent plumage of the peacock may not be quite the sacrifice for love that it appears to be, researchers at the University of Leeds have found.
 
 
Babies master words differently as they grow
Washington, Sep 18 (IANS) Toddlers learn words differently as they grow and there also is a limit as to how many words they can learn each day, says a study.
 
 
Ocean acidification 'hammering' coral growth
Washington, Sep 18 (IANS) In a disturbing trend, a team of researchers has documented that coral growth rates have plummeted 40 percent since the mid-1970s.
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

Wild berry extract booster for pancreatic cancer drug
London, Sep 18 (IANS) A wild berry native to North America may strengthen the effectiveness of a chemotherapy drug commonly used to treat pancreatic cancer, reveals new research. The team at King's College Hospital...
Read more on Apple Balla
 
Male peacock doesn't sacrifice much to woo his lady
London, Sep 18 (IANS) The magnificent plumage of the peacock may not be quite the sacrifice for love that it appears to be, researchers at the University of Leeds have found. A team filmed five Indian peacocks using...
Read more on Apple Balla
 
Babies master words differently as they grow
Washington, Sep 18 (IANS) Toddlers learn words differently as they grow and there also is a limit as to how many words they can learn each day, says a study. These findings may help parents enhance their children's...
Read more on Apple Balla
 
Scottish referendum: How the Scots changed our world forever
London, Sep 18 (IANS) As the Scottish referendum gets underway in Britain Thursday, there are plenty of ways to celebrate the country's contribution to the present day world, The Independent reported. Some of these are...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Ocean acidification 'hammering' coral growth
Washington, Sep 18 (IANS) In a disturbing trend, a team of researchers has documented that coral growth rates have plummeted 40 percent since the mid-1970s. The scientists working on Carnegie Mellon University's...
Read more on Apple Balla
 
Are YouTube, Facebook, Twitter hiding female abuse data?
New York, Sep 18 (IANS) Are YouTube, Facebook and Twitter hiding responses related to female harassment? If we believe a new study, the social media firms are not faring well on publishing abuse-reporting data. The...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Afridi urges team-mates to rally for World Cup
Karachi, Sep 18 (IANS) Veteran Pakistan all-rounder Shahid Afridi urged his team-mates to back one another if they were to win the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand and end the country's 23-year long wait for...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Chronic medical condition no bar to space travel
New York, Sep 18 (IANS) Nurse a desire to travel in a space taxi but wary of the space flight and its impact on high blood pressure or diabetes? Take heart. The aerospace medicine group at the University of Texas'...
Read more on Apple Balla
 
Fear of loss drives entrepreneurs
New York, Sep 18 (IANS) Loss aversion or fear of losing one's salary at a full-time job, along with its prestige is what drives most entrepreneurs and not a love of risk. According to a study, entrepreneurs are also...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Iran sentences dancing youths to jail, 91 lashes
Tehran, Sep 18 (IANS) A group of Iranian youths, who released a video on YouTube dancing to the popular song "Happy" by American singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams, has been sentenced to six months in jail accompanied...
Read more on Celebrity Balla