7:19 AM, Sep 5, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
In July, a hacker gained access to a computer server used to test code for the federal government's Obamacare website HealthCare.gov, according to a Thursday report by the Wall Street Journal's Danny Yadron. Although the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) stressed no data was taken and no harm resulted, officials remain concerned about the hacker's ease of access and the potential for great damage. But despite HHS's assurances after the breach was discovered on August 25 that measures are in place to guarantee security, including "daily security scans and drill hacking exercises," at least one test site, akatest.healthcare.gov, is still accessible publicly via a simple web browser.
After warning users of potential security issues, different browsers respond to the test site in various ways. For instance, Google's Chrome browser displays lines of computer code, but the Firefox browser actually shows users (see screenshot below) a somewhat stripped-down version of the normal Healthcare.gov homepage:
Users can click on links to navigate around the test site, although there do not appear to be any opportunities to create or log on to accounts as on the regular site. (A cached version of the above page is saved on archive.org if the government eventually blocks the test server.) This test site was updated as recently as August 28 with a blog post on that date, three days after HHS discovered the July hacking incident and instituted "measures to further strengthen security," according to an HHS official quoted by the Journal. The Journal also said that "[t]he White House and Congressional staff have been briefed on the matter... The Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency have aided the investigation," which is still ongoing.
THE WEEKLY STANDARD first reported the vulnerability of Healthcare.gov test sites in December 2013 when at least two such sites were exposed. The two sites, spa.healthcare.gov and test.healthcare.gov, were quickly blocked after our report. It is unclear how long akatest.healthcare.gov has been accessible, and it's also unclear if the akatest server or some other test server was hacked in the incident reported by the Journal.
When asked to comment on this latest discovery, David Kennedy of TrustedSec, an Internet security firm, surmised that probably "they plugged the initial hole, but having their test servers exposed externally is bad practice." Kennedy has testified before Congress about security concerns with the Healthcare.gov site.
With 2015 open enrollment less than two and a half months away, the government has been hiring new personnel and contractors to try to avoid a repeat of last year's debacle. As Congress continues to press for more details of the launch and what went wrong, fresh news of security breaches and potential breaches almost a year after Healthcare.gov launched is not reassuring. The Journal report said that the "server accessed had such low security settings because it was never meant to be connected to the Internet." With the cost of Healthcare.gov estimated in a recent inspector general report to eventually run as high as $1.7 billion, Congress and the public may be justified in wondering if, at least when it comes to security, they are getting their money's worth.
3:55 PM, Jul 17, 2014 • By KEN JENSEN
What to do about cyber attacks from state actors and their surrogates? For the State Department and DHS it would seem that the answer is now the courts and international negotiation. Hints of this came recently with the indictment of 5 Chinese military personnel for hacking. An utterly futile gesture as the Chinese are not about to extradite the 5 to stand trial, it bespeaks reliance on legal remedies that are, at best, only a matter of public shaming. Now, however, there is new evidence regarding the U.S. intent to negotiate on cyber with state actors like China, Russia, and Iran.
8:17 AM, Jul 16, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
The threat to the U.S. government and U.S. businesses from foreign hackers, especially from China, has been increasingly in the news in recent months. In a little noticed WTOP interview last week, recently installed National Counterintelligence Executive William Evanina expressed the threat in terms that almost seem hyperbolic:
7:01 AM, Jul 11, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Agence France-Presse State Department correspondent Jo Biddle is claiming on Twitter that members of the media traveling with Secretary of State John Kerry to China "have had their bank accounts hacked."
7:05 AM, Apr 3, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
Millions of individuals who recently entrusted personal, medical, and financial information to the federal government while enrolling in Obamacare via Healthcare.gov may find a recent trend reported by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) rather unsettling. The number of security breaches involving Personally Identifiable Information (PII) at federal agencies more than doubled in recent years, increasing from 10,481 in 2009 to 25,566 in 2013.
7:01 AM, Mar 10, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
Less than a month after the exposure of a widespread vulnerability on government "open data" websites, another perhaps even more insidious opening for abuse of government websites has come to light.
8:07 AM, Feb 20, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
At first glance, a page on the Health and Human Services (HHS) website seems to be giving that agency's official advice on the "The Health Benefits of Nootropics," a classification of purportedly memory-enhancing drugs. The page is found on the website's subdomain of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) as part of the Health System Measurement Project.
10:07 AM, Jan 19, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
According to a cyber security expert, security for the Obamacare website, Healthcare.gov, is "much worse off" now than before:
1:23 PM, Oct 4, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
A portion of the website of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) was apparently hacked as long as two months ago. SAMHSA is an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS also runs the new Obamacare insurance marketplace, Healthcare.gov.
11:02 AM, Aug 27, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana, is making the case that some "cyber" jobs need to be moved away from the Washington, D.C. area -- and to Louisiana, where those people might be physically safer.
“Those jobs can’t all be based inside Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Va.,” she explained to a local paper. "Some of those jobs need to be located outside the blast zone."
Landrieu did not explain what blasts she expects to hit the Washington, D.C. area, or when those blasts might hit.
12:00 AM, Jun 15, 2013 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
Chinese president Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama doffed their ties, rolled up their sleeves (well, at least Obama did), and even took the now-obligatory stroll around the Sunnylands Estate in Rancho Mirage, California, in the manner of Eisenhower and Khrushchev at Camp David, and Reagan and Gorbachev in Switzerland. This enabled the leaders to “establish and deepen their personal relationship,” according to Tom Donilon, Obama’s national security adviser at the time of the meeting.
10:32 AM, Jun 3, 2013 • By KEN JENSEN
Over the past few weeks things cyber have blown up in our faces once again. While some of the media noticed, the gist of the reporting was on who was doing what to us now, not the growing scandal of our essentially supine reaction to it.
11:11 AM, Jun 1, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had some words about the cyber threat from China while speaking today in Singapore. But a Chinese general, in the room for the speech, immediately responded by saying, "China is not convinced."
"Even as we seek to uphold principles in well-established areas, we must also recognize the need for common rules of the road in new domains," Hagel said, according to an official transcript of his remarks.