Which Top 5 Presidential Candidate is Most Likely to Be Hacked?
Security researcher Jonathan Lampe recently published a report comparing the security readiness of various leading contenders for the White House.
The findings are interesting because, well, it’s 2015, and many of these people lived a long time without the existence of the Internet. Given the number of high-profile hacks the government has suffered in recent years, it seems safe to say they’re still not taking computer security very seriously. To this assertion, Lampe told Hacked:
The federal government’s take on computer security is definitely a mixed bag. On the one hand, we have positive initiatives like NIST’s stewardship of commercial-quality cryptography, presidential leadership in encouraging all sites to use HTTPS, grant programs that fund bug hunts and vulnerability databases, and regulations that mandate security awareness training. On the other hand, we have recent debacles like CISA’s sharing of raw data, Wassenaar’s weaponizing of vulnerability tools, poor data security practices that lead to exposures like the one that
struck the OPM, and bad designs that lead to vulnerabilities in HealthCare.gov.
The federal government certainly spends more than enough money on IT, but good security always seems out of reach. I’d be surprised if the federal government spends less on security, proportionally, than the private sector, but bureaucracy and the continual development of custom software seem to conspire to keep federal security deployments a step behind where they should be.
With great irony, one of the lesser candidates, Republican Ben Carson, wins overall on website security. “Outsources donation and volunteer services. No store. Small attack surface,” the report says of his positives. For the negative or “con” column, there was nothing. Carson has made some radical claims during his campaign, such as the idea that Jews during the Holocaust could have survived if they’d had guns. While this is not the craziest thing ever said by a Republican, it’s proven to be significant fodder for liberal outlets to attack the candidate.
But in cybersecurity, victory is not achieved through saying things people do or do not like. It is achieved through best practices. And in this regard, Carson is perhaps unknowingly in the lead. For one thing, it may not remain the case that the candidate has no storefront. Perhaps his campaign has decided to create such a thing in the unlikely event that he gets the nomination, not before.
The other four candidates rank as follows:
- Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump received an overall “B” (compared to Carson’s “A”). Clinton lost points for relying on a “quickly built application” while Trump’s team has left the log-in page on the front of his WordPress website and possibly uses an old version of a WordPress donation plugin. (That Trump is receiving donations in the first place is perhaps the true irony here.)
- Jeb Bush and Bernie Sanders each got a “C.” Both are guilty of the same sin: they use unsecured WordPress pages and leak user information on login. Jeb Bush’s site appears to be a little worse, as the report notes that his site leaks “other information” but does not say this about Bernie Sanders’.
Lampe went to great lengths to get the data for the report. It does not, honestly, feel like there is a political bias. In the case of Hilary Clinton, he was able to find information about the way the campaign’s proprietary web application was built by finding the DevOp job description for her campaign.
This listing described the software stack in use by the Clinton people. The report fairly says that Clinton’s team had instituted some security features.
[T]here are signs that the Clinton team is taking some security precautions. The site itself seems to be running a piece of “obfuscation” software called “varnish” that regularly lies about its identity so would-be hackers would have a harder time locking on with a targeted attack. At the time of my research, Clinton’s code relied on JQuery 2.1.3, just one minor version behind cutting edge, which suggests that the team’s continuous integration process is successfully getting new versions of software (and their security fixes) published.
There is a feature of WordPress which is designed for sites like Hacked.com called “user enumeration,” and for a site like Hacked.com it would allow you to see all of our writers. But for a site like Bernie Sanders’, it makes it possible for the attacker to have a list of potential weaknesses when trying to take down the campaign. This makes plain the overall problem with CMS suites like WordPress – they are often used by venues that have no need of them.
This is not to denigrate WordPress, but it creates an overall less secure Internet when most sites are running on the same codebase. A security vulnerability in one can often mean a security vulnerability in all, and the more sites using the code, the longer it will take to patch across the spectrum. Bernie Sanders site also potentially uses an outdated version of WooCommerce, one of the more popular e-commerce plugins online. In June, WooCommerce suffered an “Object Injection Vulnerability.”
Trump Campaign Scrambles Credit Card Numbers
Like Hilary Clinton, Donald Trump’s site uses a custom design from a San Antonio firm. However, the site has few vulnerabilities because it requires less complex code to run. Trump’s donation
page, however, runs on WordPress. The report wasn’t all negative on Trump, saying that it had added security for its credit card processing.
One piece of interesting information was the client-obfuscated (and possibly encrypted) credit card number. Where most processors simply rely on HTTPS to protect the card number (thus potentially exposing card numbers to security researchers and IT staff that use TLS interception proxies), Victory Passport takes an extra step to protect the data.
The report also notes that the term “obfuscate” is used since the makers of Victory Passport wouldn’t confirm the method they’re using with the credit card processing.
As previously mentioned, Ben Carson got the best rating of all those assessed. But Jeb Bush’s campaign site was maligned for using poor security practices, despite the candidate raising more than $100 million so far. For starters, it has the same problem as the Bernie Sanders site, in that campaign managers can easily be listed using the “user enumeration” feature of the WordPress suite. It’s important to note that this can be disabled by an experienced web developer fairly easily.
By cross-referencing the list of user full names against other public information, a dedicated hacker would have a list of some 26 people to probe for further vulnerabilities. While hacking someone like a presidential candidate might actually turn out to be in the public interest, it’s probably not the desirable effect, nor a good headline when trying to compete for the most powerful position in the world.
It wasn’t all bad in reference to the Jeb Bush campaign site, however. They gained points with Lampe by utilizing Stripe, an e-Commerce platform that is growing in popularity and allows merchants to accept Bitcoin, among other features.
For donations, Bush uses Revv, a startup which aims to become a “Republican ActBlue.” Revv is in turn powered by Stripe eCommerce, which actually handles all of Bush’s online donation transactions. Normally a startup handling campaign contributions would raise security concerns, but the fact that all significant financial functions have been outsourced to an established ecommerce firm should allay any fears.
Lampe believes that computer security issues and how candidates treat them are increasingly important to voters, saying:
At the end of the day, if a candidate can’t protect his or her own website, what chance do they have to defend America’s cyber infrastructure against a world full of motivated hackers, many of whom are backed by national resources from rival countries. […] Consider Hillary’s freefall in the polls earlier this year when her home email server shenanigans were uncovered. Half the country claimed her actions were criminal while the other half claimed she was merely clueless, but no one could claim that Hillary was competent in the area of secure digital communications. And by demonstrating that she was out of touch with Americans’ cybersecurity fears, Hillary instantly scared off millions of potential voters.
The way a candidate runs computer security before reaching a position should indicate how seriously they’ll take it as a leader. Computer security becomes more akin to national security with each passing year in the 21st century, and 21st-century leaders will have to abandon 20th-century notions on exactly how important it is.
Images from Shutterstock, Infosec Institute and Wikimedia.