The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

AP story section

October 31, 2013

Concerns raised about security of health website

WASHINGTON — Defending President Barack Obama’s much-maligned health care overhaul in Congress, his top health official was confronted Wednesday with a government memo raising new security concerns about the trouble-prone website that consumers are using to enroll.

The document, obtained by The Associated Press, shows that administration officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services were concerned that a lack of testing posed a potentially “high” security risk for the HealthCare.gov website serving 36 states. It was granted a temporary security certificate so it could operate.

Security issues are a new concern for the troubled HealthCare.gov website. If they cannot be resolved, they could prove to be more serious than the long list of technical problems the administration is trying to address.

“You accepted a risk on behalf of every user...that put their personal financial information at risk,” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius during questioning before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “Amazon would never do this. ProFlowers would never do this. Kayak would never do this. This is completely an unacceptable level of security.”

Sebelius countered that the system is secure, even though the site has a temporary certificate, known in government parlance as an “authority to operate.” Sebelius said a permanent certificate will only be issued once all security issues are addressed.

Added spokeswoman Joanne Peters: “When consumers fill out their online...applications, they can trust that the information they’re providing is protected by stringent security standards and that the technology underlying the application process has been tested and is secure. Security testing happens on an ongoing basis using industry best practices.”

A security certificate is required before any government computer system can process, store or transmit agency data. Temporary certificates are allowable, but under specific circumstances.

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