U.S. intelligence is urging the Obama administration to check its new health care computer network for malicious software after learning that developers linked to the Belarusian government helped produce the website, raising fresh concerns that private data posted by millions of Americans could be compromised.
The intelligence agencies notified the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency in charge of the HealthCare.gov network, about their concerns last week. Specifically, officials warned that programmers in Belarus, a former Soviet republic closely allied with Russia, were suspected of inserting malicious code that could be used for cyberattacks, said U.S. officials familiar with concerns.
The software on the website links the millions of Americans who signed up for Obamacare to the government and more than 300 medical institutions and health care providers.
“The U.S. Affordable Care Act software was written in part in Belarus by software developers under state control, and that makes the software a potential target for cyberattacks,” one official explained, speaking only on the condition of anonymity.
Cybersecurity officials said the concerns are compounded by an Internet data “hijacking” incident last year involving Belarusian state-controlled networks. The monthlong diversion covertly rerouted massive amounts of U.S. Internet traffic to Belarus — a repressive dictatorship country bordering Russia, Poland and Ukraine.
“Belarusian President [Alexander] Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime is closely allied with Russia and is adversarial toward the United States,” the official said.
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The combination of the Belarus-origin software, the Internet rerouting and the anti-U.S. posture of the Belarusian government “makes the software written in Belarus a potential target of cyberattacks for identity theft and privacy violations” of Americans, the official said.
U.S. officials were alerted to the Belarus angle last month when a top official in the country boasted on radio about his country’s role in programming the Obamacare website.
Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said he was surprised by media reports from Belarus indicating that “some parts of HealthCare.gov or systems connected to it may have in fact been written overseas.” He called for an independent security review of the Obamacare website.
Mr. Rogers said he was especially concerned by the potential software vulnerability because an official testified to Congress that all software work for the network had been performed in the United States.
“We need an independent, thorough security evaluation of this site, and we need the commitment from the administration that the findings will be acknowledged and promptly addressed,” Mr. Rogers told the Free Beacon.
“I continue to call on HHS to shut down and properly stress test the site to ensure that consumers are protected from potential security risks from across the globe.”
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Security officials last week urged HHS to immediately conduct inspections of the network software for malicious code. The software is being used at all medical facilities and insurance companies in the United States.
The officials also recommended that HHS use security specialists not related to software vendors for the inspections to reduce further risks.
Officials disclosed the software compromise last week after the discovery in early January of statements by Belarusian official Valery Tsepkalo, director of the government-backed High-Technology Park in Minsk.
Mr. Tsepkalo told a Russian radio station in an interview broadcast last summer that HHS is “one of our clients” and that “we are helping Obama complete his insurance reform.”
“Our programmers wrote the program that appears on the monitors in all hospitals and all insurance companies — they will see the full profile of the given patient,” Mr. Tsepkalo said June 25 on Voice of Russia Radio.
HHS spokeswoman Dori Salcido referred questions about the matter to Richard A. Olague, spokesman for the department’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Mr. Olague declined to discuss the software vulnerability.
He also would not say whether CMS was conducting a search for malicious software emanating from Belarus.
CMS said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon that assessments by independent security contractors are conducted regularly by companies such as the Mitre Corp. and Blue Canopy Group LLC.
The website also is continuously monitored by CMS technicians and electronic sensors, and weekly penetration tests check the security of the system, the agency said.
A CMS security team in place also seeks to “identify anomalous activity, and to deter and prevent any unauthorized access,” the statement said.
“In addition, as new website functions continue to go live, CMS follows a rigorous and regular change management process with ongoing testing and mitigation strategies implemented in real time,” the statement said. “This occurs on a regular basis, in between the [source code analysis] testing periods.”
A spokeswoman for CGI Federal, the main federal contractor for the health care network, had no immediate comment.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney did not respond to an email asking whether President Obama was aware of the Belarusian software.
White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said an intelligence report on the Belarusian link to the Obamacare software was “recalled by the intelligence community shortly after it was issued.”
However, the report prompted HHS to launch a security review to determine whether software related to the Affordable Care Act “was written by Belarusian software developers,” she said.
“So far HHS has found no indications that any software was developed in Belarus,” Ms. Hayden said. “However, as a matter of due diligence, they will continue to review the supply chain. Supply chain risk is real and it is one of our top concerns in the area of cybersecurity.”
A senior administration official questioned whether the suspect software described in the report would be valuable to a nation state.
“Nation states are generally not interested in [personally identifiable information] for its own sake,” the official said. “Given that, we would be surprised to see a nation-state capability applied in this manner. But we are doing a thorough review anyway.”
Disclosure of cyberattack vulnerabilities follows months of software problems with the HealthCare.gov rollout that began Oct. 1. The software cost the government more than $400 million. The government spent several months attempting to repair the software.
The software problems prevented hundreds of thousands of people from obtaining health care coverage and undermined confidence in the government-run system.
Mr. Obama said Sunday that “glitches” with the website were expected, but “I don’t think I anticipated or anybody anticipated the degree of the problems with the website.”
“The good news is that right away we decided how we were going to fix it. It got fixed,” Mr. Obama said.
The threat of data diversion is compounded by the discovery last year that Belarus covertly diverted massive amounts of U.S. Internet traffic to Belarus.
According to the New Hampshire-based security firm Renesys, which discovered the data diversion, Internet traffic from the United States was sent to Belarus throughout February 2013. The purpose likely was to allow hackers or government agencies to sift through data for financial, economic or government intelligence.
The data also may have been modified for other purposes before being returned to the original U.S. and other foreign destinations.
The bulk diversion technique is called border gateway protocol hijacking. It involves using a series of network addresses to mask the data diversion through numerous Internet hubs around the world.
Renesys traced the data diversion from Washington to New York and Moscow and finally to Minsk, the Belarusian capital. It was returned to the United States via connections in Moscow, Frankfurt and New York.