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Attacks/Breaches

5 Obamacare Health Site Security Warnings

Early shakedowns of the health insurance exchange websites show they are vulnerable to cross-site request forgery, clickjacking and cookie attacks, among other risks.

4. Fake Sites

Which health insurance exchange sites are real? "The health insurance exchange isn't made up of a single, authoritative site where people can go and register for coverage," said Christopher Budd, threat communications manager for Trend Micro, in a blog post. "In addition to the federal site, people can apply for coverage at sites run by individual states. Then, within each state, there can also be legitimate third-party sites that provide assistance and even broker coverage," he said.

Although the federal site does use SSL to verify its authenticity, "a survey of state and third-party sites also shows that official sites aren't required to provide the ability to verify the site using SSL" -- and many don't. "As people look for health care exchanges, they're going to be faced with potentially hundreds or thousands of sites that claim to be legitimate, but [they] won't be able to easily verify that claim," except based on how a site looks, said Budd.

Accordingly, many security experts have recommended that -- just as with banking sites and PayPal, among other sites -- people never, ever click a link to the site that's in an email they've received, or use an online search to find the site. Instead, type the URL into the address bar, to avoid poisoned search results or phishing attacks. Or for healthcare, simply call one of the exchange phone numbers, or visit an office in person, recommended Budd.

5. Scam Psychology

How many people would willingly divulge not just their own social security number, but the numbers for everyone in their family? For health exchanges, that's essential information, which means consumers might soon find themselves being targeted by scammers posing as health insurance exchange brokers.

"Most of us won't give our social security numbers out willingly. But when it comes to healthcare, the industry uses that information so regularly that we've come to accept handing that information over as a matter of course -- even if we don't like it," said Budd. Accordingly, consumers should beware parting with that information, unless they've first verified the identity of the caller or website with which they're planning to share it.

Expect Marketplaces To Be Targeted

Just how risky are all these threats? In the case of the code-level flaws found by HP's Shah, she characterized the information security risks not as vulnerabilities, but rather "red flags." Budd's warnings center on scam psychology and the threat of fake websites, which already threaten numerous types of sites.

But given the high profile of healthcare.gov and other portals, as well as the sensitive information they handle, it wouldn't be surprising if identity thieves, at least, do begin probing healthcare.gov and other sites weaknesses. "The site handles the sensitive information of millions of Americans: health history, identity, tax records and more," Shah said. In short, consumers will need all the security they can get.

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MarciaNWC
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MarciaNWC,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/9/2013 | 6:51:44 PM
re: 5 Obamacare Health Site Security Warnings
Seems like development was rushed, making security less of a priority, which is fairly shocking considering the sensitivity of the data involved.
JEngdahlJ
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50%
JEngdahlJ,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/8/2013 | 3:32:29 PM
re: 5 Obamacare Health Site Security Warnings
Communicating healthcare reform: Helping navigate the waters. See: http://www.healthcaretownhall....
Mathew
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50%
Mathew,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/8/2013 | 12:11:21 PM
re: 5 Obamacare Health Site Security Warnings
I don't think the lack of availability will pose a security risk. I think any failures will simply result in the site being unavailable.

Still, the domain of load management and load balancing seems pretty circa-late-1990s. Meaning that with proper prep time, all of this should have been ironed out well in advance. But as you noted in your tech critique of the insurance exchanges, owing perhaps to the timelines involved (short) and logic requirements (complex, given the complex law that the site and its workflows must accommodate), obviously too little time has been spent to ensure the site can meet projected demand.

Data quality also sounds like an ongoing challenge, with insurers reporting last week that they had seen few (if any) actual applications, suggesting that the system isn't yet as automated -- and the source data as clean -- as it will need to be.

On the flip side, in this era of agile development, perhaps there are some upsides to the current scenario? The high-profile launch, while frustrating for users, has lit a fire under development teams, and whoever is holding their purse strings. How many federal and state IT projects in the past have too often exceeded their budgets, been "over-redesigned" throughout implementation and as a result faced interminable delays, if ever reaching fruition? But heathcare.gov is now live. The development team must iterate, refine and improve the system to the point where it should have been, prior to being launched.
David F. Carr
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50%
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/7/2013 | 6:31:04 PM
re: 5 Obamacare Health Site Security Warnings
I wonder if there are risks inherent to the sites being overloaded - whether they're likely to fail under stress in a way that reveals private info
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