FBI Warned Security Expert Not to Talk About Gov Health Website's Dangers

“They were not interested in talking about the security issues."


Shoot the messenger is the standard bureaucratic response of the system to its own ineptitude all the way down from ObamaCare's HealthCare.gov to Covered California.

L.A.-based security researcher Kristian Erik Hermansen was signing up for Obamacare via the Covered California site. Given his background in finding vulnerabilities in software and websites, spotting security flaws , he couldn’t help noticing a vulnerability that would allow someone to take over another person’s account on the California site.

He tried contacting Covered California “at least 15 times” by email, phone or chat about the problem, but got no response for over a month.

Hermansen, frustrated that the flaw had been out there for over a month already, decided to release a video of the exploit to YouTube. That got the attention of a Covered California lawyer who contacted him to take the video down.

Hermansen then spoke by phone to the lawyer and a chief security person. “They were not interested in talking about the security issues but about getting the video or any other online mention of the flaw taken down.”

Hermansen said he found more serious issues — such as an exposed admin interface and a potentially raidable database that might have made it easy to steal complete social security numbers en masse — but that he did not explore or expose them publicly to avoid running afoul of the law.

He was most dismayed though by how the site’s administrators reacted to his finding flaws: first ignoring him, then trying to sweep his disclosure under the rug, rather than immediately addressing or fixing the problem that he had found.

On Wednesday, Hermansen said the FBI visited him and told him not to talk about this publicly anymore.

Matt Ploessel, a security researcher who collaborated with Hermansen, reported the problems to the government’s vulnerability clearinghouse US-CERT. He said he also got a call from the F.B.I. Wednesday. “They told me that creating a test account because we didn’t want to touch real live data is fraudulent.”

These kinds of regs criminalize violations of terms of service punish whistleblowers. While professional sites such as Facebook actually pay users for bug reports and security vulnerability detections, government agencies send the FBI after you. No wonder their sites don't work.

Tags: Obamacare