What could Premera have done to prevent the massive data breach ?
Many questions ran through my head about Premera’s information security, when news came out earlier this week about its massive data breach involving at least 11 million customers first hit the news. Initially, some praised Premera’s response to the sophisticated cyber attack that reportedly occurred in May 2014. However, it turns out that before the breach ever occurred, a federal watchdog agency (Office of Personnel Management’s Office of Inspector General) notified Premera of at least 10 ways that it should address a range of security weaknesses that the audit of their systems revealed.
Among the weaknesses found by the Office of Personnel Management’s Office of Inspector General’s audit were issues related to patch management, insecure server configurations and weakness related to password history configuration settings
Pop. With the news about the fed audit and findings, the bubble of hope in my mind burst: Looks like Premera had not done everything possible in securing its customers’ data before the May 2014 cyberattack. In fact, Premera had “respectfully disagreed” with some of the recommendations related to patches “as it believe[d] deployment of critical security patches is in compliance with the documented patch management policy provided to the OPM audit staff.”
OIG didn’t agree:
The results of the vulnerability scans performed during the fieldwork phase of this audit indicated that Premera was not in compliance with its policy for deploying patches within a specific timeframe based on criticality. As part of the audit resolution process, we recommend that Premera provide OPM with evidence that it has adequately implemented this recommendation. [emphasis added]
The onsite portion of the audit was conducted during January and February of 2014, with additional offsite audit work performed by OIG before and after the on-site visit. The draft report that OIG issued to Premera on April 18, 2014, was based on Premera’s security controls as of March 2014, according to a final version of the report that OIG issued publicly in November 2014.
In a statement earlier this week, Premera, based in Mountlake Terrace, Wash., said that on Jan. 29, it discovered that cyber-attackers had gained unauthorized access to its systems, exposing information on 11 million individuals. An investigation by forensic experts hired by Premera shows that the initial attack occurred on May 5, 2014, the insurer says. That’s less than a month after OIG issued its draft audit report. What unfortunate timing for Premera and all of its insureds…
Granted, no one is yet saying that had Premera timely compliance with OIG’s recommendations would have thwarted the May 2014 cyberattack. The facts should illuminate all of us at some point down the road*. In the meantime, privacy experts such as Kate Borten point out that “failure to patch and unsecure configurations are vulnerabilities we’ve known about for decades…Regardless of whether they contributed to this latest attack, every organization – large and small – should pay attention to such common issues… Make it a priority to keep up with patches. Run vulnerability scans and respond to them by correcting security problems. Make sure your tech and infosec staff understand these security risks, and train them if not.”
NOTE: Stritmatter Kessler Whelan is researching a potential class action against Premera. If you or someone you know had an individual plan (not on a company sponsored plan), please contact me at Catherine@Stritmatter.com.