by Edd Gent
David Kennedy, head of computer security consulting firm TrustedSec LLC, told Reuters that the government has yet to plug more than 20 vulnerabilities that he and other security experts reported to the government shortly after the HealthCare.gov website went live on October 1.
Hackers could steal personal information, modify data or attack the personal computers of the website’s users, he said. They could also damage the infrastructure of the site, according to Kennedy, who is scheduled to describe his security concerns in testimony before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee today.
“These issues are alarming,” Kennedy said in an interview yesterday.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the federal agency that oversees the site’s operations, provided Reuters with a statement saying it takes the concerns seriously.
“To date there have been no successful security attacks on HealthCare.gov and no person or group has maliciously accessed personally identifiable information from the site,” the statement said.
“Security testing is conducted on an on-going basis using industry best practices to appropriately safeguard consumers’ personal information.”
Kennedy said he last week presented technical details describing the vulnerabilities in the site to seven independent cyber security experts, who reviewed videos of potential attack methods as well as logs and other documentation.
They wrote notes to the House Committee saying they were concerned about the site’s security, which Kennedy provided to Reuters and will be released on today to the committee led by Republicans who oppose the Affordable Care Act.
Members of the security community have been publicly pointing out problems with the site and say they have been privately providing the government with technical details of those issues since early October.
At a November Science Committee hearing, Kennedy and three other expert witnesses said they believed the site was not secure and three of them said it should be shut down immediately.
Kennedy and his peers who reviewed his work ahead of today’s hearing said the site still has serious security vulnerabilities that can be viewed from the outside.
“The site is fundamentally flawed in ways that make it dangerous to people who use it,” said Kevin Johnson, one of the experts who reviewed Kennedy’s findings.
Johnson said that one of the most troubling issues was that a hacker could upload malicious code to the site, then attack other HealthCare.gov users.
“You can take control of their computers,” said Johnson, chief executive of a firm known as Secure Ideas and a teacher at the non-profit SANS Institute, the world’s biggest organization that trains and certifies cyber security professionals.
He declined to provide further details about that vulnerability, saying he was concerned the information could be used by malicious hackers to launch attacks.
Kennedy said he identified many other problems on his own, conducting what is known as “passive analysis” of the site, by using an ordinary Web browser and other software tools to look at HealthCare.gov’s content and architecture from the outside.
One security flaw that Kennedy first uncovered and reported to the government in October exposes information including a user’s full name and email address. He said he wrote a short computer program in five minutes that automatically collects that data, which was able to import some 70,000 records in about four minutes.