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OIG Identifies Security Vulnerabilities in CMS’s Wireless Networks

August 24, 2016
by Heather Landi
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A penetration test of data centers operated by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) found vulnerabilities in security controls over its wireless networks.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General conducted penetration testing from August 31, 2015 to December 4, 2015 at 13 CMS data centers and facilities. The tests simulated certain wireless cyber attacks using tools and techniques commonly used by attackers to gain unauthorized access to wireless networks and sensitive data, according to the OIG report.

“Although the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services had security controls that were effective in preventing certain types of wireless cyber attacks, we identified four vulnerabilities in security controls over its wireless networks,” the OIG investigators wrote in the report.

“According to CMS, these vulnerabilities existing because of improper configurations and failure to complete necessary upgrades that CMS previously identified and reported as having been currently underway,” the report stated.

THE OIG report stated that the vulnerabilities identified were collectively, and in some cases, individually significant. “Although we did not identify evidence that the vulnerabilities had been exploited, exploitation could have resulted in unauthorized access to and disclosure of personally identifiable information, as well as disruption of critical operations,” the report stated. “In addition, exploitation could have compromised the confidentiality, integrity and availability of CMS’s data and systems. We promptly shared detailed information with CMS about our preliminary findings in advance of issuing our draft report.”

Auditors recommend that CMS improve its security controls to address the wireless network vulnerabilities identified. “When implemented, these recommendations should further strengthen the information security of CMS’s wireless networks. Because of the sensitive nature of our findings, we have not listed the detailed recommendations in this summary report.”

In a letter addressing the OIG report on wireless penetration testing, Andrew Slavitt, acting administrator at CMS, wrote, “CMS acknowledges that risks exist inherently for every IT system and that as technology progresses, additional safeguards will be needed. Through the enforcement of documented policies and procedures, as well as dedicated information security staff, CMS protects the security and privacy of data.”

Further Slavitt wrote, “CMS appreciates the OIG’s suggestion of controls and processes that could be improved to further reduce or mitigate risk. CMS concurred with all of the OIG findings and has already addressed several of the findings and is in the process of addressing the remaining findings.”

In the report, OIG noted that wireless technology offers federal agencies opportunities to improve employee productivity and flexibility. In addition, wireless networks can provide tremendous cost savings when compared to traditional wired infrastructures.

“However, wireless networks and devices also present significant security challenges, including how to best protect against outside attacks and how to control access to wireless infrastructure and devices.

The increased use of wireless technology has introduced several new security risks to the computing environment that can compromise sensitive information, including eavesdropping, unauthorized access points, and signal leakage,” the OIG report stated.



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