Hackers have thrown multiple attacks at US President Obama's medical insurance bazaar HealthCare.gov since it went live in October, according to a senior US government official.
Acting assistant Homeland Security secretary Roberta Stempfley told a hearing of the House Homeland Security (HHS) Committee that the website was assaulted 16 times between 6 and 8 November, adding that all the attempts to knacker the site had failed, CNN reports (the site was perfectly capable of taking itself down, as it turned out).
Stempfley failed to specify the nature of the attempted attacks - but one expert at the committee hearing warned it's just a matter of time before the website, which handles highly sensitive and personal information about US citizens, is compromised.
Separately US authorities are investigating the release of a "denial-of-service tool" designed to hit the healthcare website with more traffic than it can handle. The "Destroy Obama Care" utility is designed to put a strain on the site by alternating requests for two different pages on the site.
This is not a particularly aggressive, nor seemingly effective, approach. The tool has been mentioned on social networks, and made available for download from a small number of sites.
HealthCare.gov has been difficult to reach at times and less than reliable, but that's another story.
Dan Holden, director of security research for DDoS mitigation experts Arbor Networks, told CNN that the ObamaCare site's availability issues were unrelated to use of the "Destroy Obama Care" tool.
"We have not monitored any attacks," Holden told CNN. "We have not seen any sizeable, or anything to believe that these problems are related to DDOS."
"I don't believe that the problems with the site's availability is due to any kind of DDOS attack," he added.
Arbor was one of the first firm to document the utility earlier this month. Researcher Marc Eisenbarth said that the tool's request rate, non-distributed attack architecture and other limitations meant it was "unlikely to succeed in affecting the availability of the healthcare.gov site."
HealthCare.gov is a high profile public website, but database expert Luke Chung testified before the HHS committee that despite costing ten of millions of dollars or more it features a "sub-par" design ill fitting for such a high-profile project. From a purely security perspective, the site has been penetration tested, and remediation work has reportedly been carried out. However independent security experts continue to warn that HealthCare.gov is not up to the job, with some going further and describing it as something like an accident waiting to happen.
David Kennedy, founder of computer security biz TrustedSec, told the hearing the healthcare.gov "is either hacked already, or will be soon”. He added that site is so full of functional and "critical" security problems that it would never have gone live if it was a commercial, private concern.
He also produced a 17-page dossier, laying out all the issues he found with the site.
"There is a lot of stuff that we are not publicly disclosing because of the criticality of the findings," Kennedy said. "We don't want to hurt people."
Reasons for Kennedy's gloomy prognosis are not hard to locate. Incredibly the Healthcare.gov website's search box helpfully suggests SQL injection attack strings in its autocomplete list - indicating someone at least has been probing the site.
The House of Representatives Science, Space, and Technology Committee is holding hearings on the security and functionality of the HealthCare.gov website. ®