Audit finds high-risk security vulnerabilities in the automated systems used to process Medicaid claims

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of HHS recently released an audit that found pervasive high-risk security vulnerabilities at 10 state Medicaid agencies. The report is written so as not to provide a road map for attackers who might want to exploit the vulnerabilities but to raise awareness of concerns, i.e., the states are not identified in the report.  The audit period included calendar years 2010 to 2012.

Seventy-nine individual audit findings were grouped into 15 security control areas within 3 information system general control categories: entitywide controls, access controls, and network operations controls.

In the area of entitywide controls, we identified significant and pervasive findings involving the need to develop or strengthen formal, comprehensive plans for system security, contingency planning, and configuration management, among other findings. Findings in the area of access controls included frequently-noted vulnerabilities related to logical access and user account management, login identification and authentication, and remote access. In the area of network operations controls, we identified significant and pervasive findings regarding the need for formalized policies and procedures for network device management and patch management, among other findings.

I’ve pulled out a few of the findings that address topics frequently mentioned on this blog. One of the areas the audit considered was encryption for data in storage and during transmission:

We identified eight findings in as many States related to encryption vulnerabilities. For example, 1 State agency had not encrypted the hard drives of 14 portable laptop computers, leaving them susceptible to unauthorized access.

Given this blogger’s particular interest in insider breaches that seem to be under-reported, let’s turn to the findings on access controls:

… We identified eight findings in six States related to logical access rights. For example, one State agency had not established any formal policies regarding user account management and had not performed periodic reviews of network accounts to ensure that access was appropriately authorized and that accounts were properly configured. Without periodically reviewing user accounts and user access, State agencies run the risk of allowing personnel to gain inappropriate access to sensitive Medicaid data and systems, access that could lead to improper activities.

…. We identified six findings in five States related to identification and authentication vulnerabilities. For example, one State agency had not enabled the network user account lockout function after unsuccessful login attempts, an error that could have allowed intruders to successfully run automated login attack tools without detection.

…. We identified six findings in as many States related to remote access vulnerabilities. For example, one State agency was using an insecure remote access method, which sent unencrypted data (including passwords) across the Internet, to perform system administration functions within its MMIS.

The above are just some of the factors audited. You can download the full report here (.pdf).

Thanks to Dr. Darrell Pruitt for making me aware of this report.

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