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Healthcare.gov’s Poor Security Diagnosis Shows Importance of Security Lifecycle

21
Jan
2014

Four minutes – that is how long security researcher David Kennedy said it took him to expose a hole that could have allowed him to access information on 70,000 people courtesy of Healthcare.gov.

The security of the website has become a political battleground in the fight over Obamacare. But behind the politics, Kennedy told SecurityWeek, are serious security issues caused by a rushed development cycle.

“They didn’t have enough time to formally develop the website and grow in a manner to be successful,” said Kennedy, founder of TrustedSec. “When that happens, security is put in the back burner to making sure you can get the site out in time. To this date, they can’t be doing any formal testing all around on the site. Maybe some here or there, but nothing that we would consider industry best practices.”

While he declined to get into the specifics of what he did because the issue is still present, he described it as not so such much a hack but an abuse of the site’s legitimate functionality.

In testimony before Congress last week, Teresa Fryer, chief information officer of the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS), testified that the site had passed a “security control assessment” in December and had “no open high findings.” In his testimony however, Kennedy disagreed, claiming that only half of the 18 major issues he had previously told Congress about in November had been fixed.

“Vulnerabilities are a fact of life for any large scale service delivered via the Internet, and especially the web,” Tim Erlin, director of IT risk and security strategy for Tripwire, opined in an interview with SecurityWeek. “The problem here is not that these vulnerabilities exist, but that there seems to be no defined process for addressing them, outside of political mudslinging and defensive posturing. Commercial vendors deal with this reality on a daily basis.”

“People, both customers and researchers of varying affiliations, find vulnerabilities,” he continued. “They are encouraged…to report them to the affected vendor first, but some are disclosed publically with no vendor notification, or are discovered through their exploitation by criminals. The vendors establish a process for validating, responding and fixing these issues. This kind of a process is what’s behind Microsoft’s monthly release of security bulletins. A good process assesses risk, adjusts priorities appropriately and provides a framework for setting expectations and for public response.”

“Instead of engaging in a PR war, Healthcare.gov should implement a constructive process for finding, prioritizing, and fixing the vulnerabilities in their service,” he added.

Kennedy agreed, arguing that healthcare.gov is not a solitary case. On the contrary, this is a federal and statewide issue, he said.

“There needs to be a higher governance structure where all security reports in through the fed/state in order to ensure appropriate controls and functioning security programs,” he said. “Specifically for Healthcare.gov, I’m not sure how they can [improve security] at this point, they just booted the developers for the original site and moved to a new one. It’s going to be a mess for awhile.

“I hope Accenture incorporates best practices and performs full security reviews,” he added. “The word FISMA compliance is thrown around as being secure. FISMA is far from security and anything from being close to industry best practices or a successful security program.”

*This story was updated with a clarification.

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Brian Prince is a Contributing Writer for SecurityWeek.Previous Columns by Brian Prince:Healthcare.govs Poor Security Diagnosis Shows Importance of Security Lifecycle SCADA Zero-Day Patched After Disclosure Cyber Attack Leverages Internet of Things Twitter Makes Apps Use Encryption to Connect to APICipherCloud Acquires CloudUp Networks for Data Privacy, Protection

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