Hackers Hit Healthcare.gov, But Leave Empty Handed

In what may have been a politically motivated attack, hackers broke into a network server for the government’s Healthcare.gov website, but left without viewing or downloading any personal information from the millions of Americans who have registered with the site.

The Obama administration confirmed last night that a test server for the government’s insurance marketplace website was hacked late last month, but they’re confident that no personal data was compromised.

“Our review indicates that the server did not contain consumer personal information; data was not transmitted outside the agency, and the website was not specifically targeted. We have taken measures to further strengthen security,” said Kevin Griffis, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services.

However, the hackers were successful in uploading malicious code to the site. This type of code is used to create a denial of service attack, which is a common hack used to slow down or even suspend access to a website. As of 2014, the frequency of recognized such attacks had reached an average rate of 28 per hour.

Denial of service attacks typically target sites or services hosted on high-profile servers for banks, credit card companies, government agencies and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Often, the attacks are motivated by disdain for the company or organization that runs the server and are not random acts of Internet vandalism.

A common method of attack involves saturating servers with so many external communications requests that the server cannot respond to legitimate traffic, overloading it until it slows to a crawl or shuts down entirely.

The attack appears not to have any lasting effect on the test server.

Last year, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed there were at least 16 cyber attacks on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace portal. Right-wing groups had distributed information and tools on the Internet on how to attack the site, according to Information Week, a popular information technology news site. The groups called their attack tool "Destroy Obama Care!"

HealthCare.gov is a marketplace operated by the federal government under provisions of the Affordable Care Act to serve the residents of the 36 states that have not created their own health-care exchanges. The site facilitates the sale of private health insurance and assists those persons for Medicaid to sign up. It also is has a separate portal to assist small businesses with finding health-care plans.  

The site launched on October 1, 2013, but had serious technical problems making it difficult for the public to sign up for health care plans. The federal government has since fixed the site and its servers and it is reportedly operating smoothly since December 2013. 

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