Majority of Election Sites in Battleground States Lack Validation, McAfee Finds

February 6, 2020 by Majority of Election Sites in Battleground States Lack Validation, McAfee Finds February 6, 2020by Gopal Ratnam, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)
A poll worker gets "I Voted" stickers ready to hand to voters as they finished up at the ballot booths at Jan Kaminis Platt Regional Library in South Tampa, Fla., on November 6, 2012. (Carolina Hidalgo/Tampa Bay Times/TNS)

WASHINGTON — A vast majority of election-related websites operated by local governments in battleground states lack a key feature that would help distinguish them from those run by commercial entities or criminal hackers — a site that ends in .gov as opposed to .com or other extensions, according to cybersecurity research firm McAfee.

Of 1,117 counties in 13 key states, which account for 201 of the 270 Electoral College votes that determine the winner of presidential contests, 83.3% didn’t have the .gov validation, McAfee found.

When government websites operate using .com or other domain extensions, it becomes easy for foreign adversaries to put up fake sites that imitate government websites and to mount disinformation campaigns aimed at misleading voters, said Steve Grobman, McAfee’s chief technology officer.

“If we look at the battleground states, the local election websites are still not operating with the level of security we’d expect,” Grobman told CQ Roll Call. “We see the vast majority are not using .gov, meaning that normal citizens may not be able to identify if an election website is real or not. And only half of them use encryption, so information they’re transmitting is not secure.”

Attackers trying to mislead voters could set up fake websites ending in .com or .us or other domain extensions, similar to those used by local agencies, making them hard to distinguish from authentic ones, Grobman said.

If all government websites, from federal agencies to local governments, operated only with a .gov domain, then a nationwide campaign could educate citizens and voters to trust only .gov websites, Grobman said.

Minnesota was the worst offender, with 95.4% of its sites lacking the .gov extension, while Texas, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Ohio were among the states where more than 80% of sites had no validation through the .gov extension, McAfee found.

In Iowa and New Hampshire — two key states that hold the first caucus and primary, respectively, to pick a party’s presidential candidate — significant majorities of sites lacked the .gov extension, McAfee found. In Iowa, 88.9% operate without .gov, while 90% of New Hampshire sites lack one.

More than two-thirds of Arizona’s websites had the .gov extension, making it the state with the most validation. Still, because one-third of the state’s sites lacked the .gov extension, “hundreds of thousands of voters could still be subjected to disinformation schemes,” McAfee said.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, and some lawmakers have been urging state and local agencies to boost security measures.

“We encourage organizations to move to the .gov domain,” Christopher Krebs, director of CISA, told reporters last week after completing an election security exercise with state and local governments. “We do think that between now and the election, there may be other security measures we can put in place like multifactor authentication on key administrator accounts and ensuring that websites have ‘https’ (prefixes). Ultimately, we’d like everyone in government to be on the .gov domain.”

To obtain a .gov extension, local governments have to get permission from the U.S. government.

A bipartisan bill under consideration in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee would require CISA to come up with a plan to migrate all government agencies to the .gov domain. The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and backed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.; Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; and James Lankford, R-Okla.

The .gov extension is a top-level domain name administered by the General Services Administration and available only for U.S. federal, state and local government agencies. Domain names for foreign government agencies typically use .gov, followed by an abbreviation of the country name.

Some U.S. federal agencies follow a different naming convention for their websites. The Pentagon and military services, for example, use the .mil extension.

Nearly half of the local government election websites also lacked another key security feature that’s denoted by “https” in front of a website’s address, McAfee found. Instead, 46.6% of the local government sites were operating with only an “http,” which means that data flows in and out of those websites in an unencrypted form, potentially leaving them vulnerable to manipulation.

In Iowa and New Hampshire, about 30% of election websites operate without the https feature, McAfee found.

Top technology companies, including Google, tell developers that all websites should be protected with the https technology. Without the secure layer, intruders can tamper with communications between users and websites and trick users into giving up sensitive information, Google warned developers last year.

All information that flows between users and websites, including images, cookies, scripts and HTML, can be exploited without https, Google said.

———

©2020 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved

Visit CQ Roll Call at www.rollcall.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

2020 Elections

China, US Media Dispute Heats Up As Beijing Expels Three Reporters
Geopolitics
China, US Media Dispute Heats Up As Beijing Expels Three Reporters
February 19, 2020
by Dan McCue

China expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters Wednesday saying it was revoking their credentials due to a headline that appeared above an opinion column two weeks ago. The expulsions came less than 24 hours after the Trump administration designated five state-run Chinese news outlets that operate... Read More

Industry Analysis Finds Trump’s War Restricts Solar Energy Job Growth
Employment
Industry Analysis Finds Trump’s War Restricts Solar Energy Job Growth
February 19, 2020
by Dan McCue

President Donald Trump's tariff war with China significantly restricted the growth of the nation's solar energy workforce last year, an industry analysis shows. According to a report released Wednesday by The Solar Energy Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to advancing the use of solar and... Read More

Overwhelming Majority of Americans Concerned 'Fake' News Will Impact 2020 Election
In The News
Overwhelming Majority of Americans Concerned 'Fake' News Will Impact 2020 Election
February 19, 2020
by Dan McCue

An overwhelming majority of Americans -- 82% -- fear made-up news and other false reports about the candidates will undermine the 2020 presidential election, a new Pew Center study finds. The report, released Wednesday, said nearly half of those survey participants, a full 48%, placed themselves... Read More

Silver State Lining in Iowa Debacle? Nevada Democrats Want to Be First Next Time
Political News
Silver State Lining in Iowa Debacle? Nevada Democrats Want to Be First Next Time

PAHRUMP, Nev. — Iowa Democrats’ disastrous delay in announcing results from the Feb. 3 caucuses could turn out to be an opportunity for Nevada — but only if the more diverse Silver State can smoothly count its own votes this weekend. Ask Democrats from Las Vegas... Read More

Democrats Court Diverse Voters in Nevada
2020 Elections
Democrats Court Diverse Voters in Nevada

LAS VEGAS — Lisa Rosario describes herself as a political junkie. But she still hasn’t decided who she will support in the Democratic presidential contest. “It’s gut-wrenching because this to me is one of the most important votes that we’ve had in my generation. This is... Read More

SC Republicans Plotting to Boost Bernie to Beat Biden, Help Trump
Political News
SC Republicans Plotting to Boost Bernie to Beat Biden, Help Trump
February 18, 2020
by Dan McCue

A group of activist Republicans are planning to cross party lines and vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders in next week's South Carolina primary in a bid to ensure that President Donald Trump faces a Socialist in the November general election. Last year, the South Carolina Republican... Read More

Straight From The Well
scroll top