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

 
 
 

33 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The administration says the documents offer only a partial and "outdated" snapshot of an improving situation, and the security problems cited were either resolved or are being addressed through specific actions.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

7 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) ...
Source: Business Times Singapore   Full article at: Business Times Singapore
 

 
Update
1

7 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 M ...
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

'Time to rename medicines for mental health'
London, Oct 20 (IANS) In order to remove confusion for patients who could be prescribed drugs that appear to be unrelated to their condition, the world's major psychiatry organisations are proposing to completely change the terminology of the drugs used in mental disorders.
 
 
How to prevent brain damage after trauma
New York, Oct 20 (IANS) A treatment to prevent the body's immune system from killing brain cells can reduce the brain damage caused by head injuries, a study co-authored by an Indian origin researcher has found.
 
 
Heart attack ups depression risk in women
London, Oct 20 (IANS) Women are at a higher risk of developing anxiety and depression after a heart attack than men, new research shows.
 
 
Vitamin B12 could detoxify pollutants
London, Oct 20 (IANS) Looking at how certain organisms manage to lower the toxicity of pollutants, researchers have discovered that vitamin B12 could be the key to combating pollution.
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

1,074 new dengue cases in Chinese province
Beijing, Oct 18 (IANS) China's Guangdong province has reported 1,047 new cases of dengue fever, health authorities said Saturday. Six people have already died in Guangdong -- five in Guangzhou and one in adjacent...
Read more on Business Balla
 
Blake Lively 'always' wanted to be mum
Blake Lively has ''always'' wanted to be a mother. The 27-year-old actress is expecting her first child with husband Ryan Reynolds and she admits she's been dreaming of this moment since she was a youngster. Speaking...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Kris Jenner 'torn apart' by Bruce's new relationship
Kris Jenner feels ''torn apart and angry'' that Bruce Jenner is dating her former assistant. The 58-year-old matriarch split from the 64-year-old Olympic gold medalist last October following 22-years of marriage but is...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Cheryl Fernandez-Versini won't move to France
Cheryl Fernandez-Versini doesn't want to move to her husband's home country of France. The 'X Factor' judge, 31, who comes from Newcastle, is adamant she won't be relocating any time soon to suit her new spouse Jean-...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Lance Bass sets wedding date
Lance Bass has set a date for his wedding. The former *NSYNC singer and his partner Michael Turchin, who have been dating for two-and-a-half years, are to tie the knot on December 20, 2014, a representative for the...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Nepal avalanche toll reaches 39
Kathmandu, Oct 18 (IANS) At least 39 climbers died while hiking on a key Nepali route after it was hit by a major snowstorm and avalanches earlier this week, BBC reported Saturday citing officials. Over 350 stranded...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Jake Gyllenhaal says society is complicit in 'nightcrawling'
Jake Gyllenhaal says almost everybody in society ought to relate to his new movie 'Nightcrawlers'. The eagerly-awaited film concerns those people who monitor police scanners and then race to crime scenes to film eye-...
Read more on Movie Balla
 
India eves look for first win in AFC U-16 qualifiers
Dhaka, Oct 18 (IANS) India will hope to register their first win of the 2015 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-16 Women's Championship qualifiers when they take on hosts Bangladesh in a crucial encounter at the...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Moyes mulling return to management
London, Oct 18 (IANS) Former Manchester United manager David Moyes said that he is ready to revive his managerial career six months after being sacked by the 'Red Devils'. "I am ready to return. I have enjoyed the...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Ebola fears loom over Ghana hosting AFCON
Accra (Ghana), Oct 18 (IANS) The Ghana Medical Association (GMA) cautioned the government Saturday against hosting the 2015 African Cup of Nations (AFCON), despite a request by the Confederation of African Football (...
Read more on Sport Balla