OIG: Personal Data in Some Insurance Exchanges Still Vulnerable to Cyberattack

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By Nathaniel Weixel

Sept. 23 — The websites and databases in some state health insurance exchanges are still vulnerable to attack, putting personally identifiable information (PII) at risk, according to a report (A-18-14-30011) from the HHS Office of Inspector General.

The Sept. 23 report examined the website and databases of the federal insurance exchange, as well as the state exchanges for Kentucky and New Mexico.

These reviews generally examined whether information security controls were implemented in accordance with relevant federal requirements and guidelines and whether vulnerabilities identified by prior assessments were remediated in a timely manner.

Mostly, the data in all three exchanges were protected, but the OIG found opportunities to improve database access and security controls to adhere more strictly to federal requirements.

“Since the marketplaces handle consumers' PII, security of the marketplaces' data and systems is vital,” the OIG said.

The OIG said the report is the first in a series on the data and system security for the exchanges.

HealthCare.gov Vulnerability

Notably, the OIG found a “critical vulnerability” in the federal exchange operated through the HealthCare.gov website, which is also the portal to the state exchanges. The vulnerability might allow an attacker to execute commands on the server, or retrieve and modify information on the server.

The report didn't include details of the vulnerabilities identified “because of the sensitive nature of the information,” the OIG said. More detailed information and recommendations were given to officials of the three exchanges.

Unauthorized PII Access

The OIG also found two critical data security vulnerabilities in the CMS servers.

“These critical vulnerabilities placed the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of PII at risk and could have allowed unauthorized access to consumer PII,” the OIG said.

According to the OIG, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services subsequently had “taken steps” to remediate the issues.

Since the launch of HealthCare.gov in 2013, the OIG said the CMS hadn't yet:

• implemented a process to use automated tools to test database security configuration settings on all of its supporting databases;

• implemented an effective enterprise scanning tool to test for website vulnerabilities; and

• detected and defended against website vulnerability scanning and simulated cyberattacks directed at HealthCare.gov. 

State Issues

According to the OIG, Kentucky had sufficiently protected PII on its marketplace websites and databases in accordance with federal requirements.

However, “opportunities to improve the Kentucky marketplace's database access and information security controls remain,” the OIG said.

In New Mexico, the report said state officials had implemented security controls, policies and procedures to prevent vulnerabilities in its exchange website, database and supporting information systems.

Yet the report said the state's “information technology policies and procedures did not always conform to federal requirements to secure sensitive information stored and processed by the New Mexico marketplace.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Nathaniel Weixel in Washington at nweixel@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kendra Casey Plank at kcasey@bna.com

The report is at https://oig.hhs.gov/oas/reports/region1/181430011.pdf.