Expensive != Secure

One of the very first jobs I had after getting my undergraduate degree was working on a political campaign. I learned first hand how tight campaigns can be with money – I was paid next to nothing for countless hours of work. Lack of dough notwithstanding, I learned a lot and it opened up a number of opportunities for me down the road.

This first experience was a few years before websites started to be used in political campaigns (hope I didn’t date myself there). These days, having a campaign website is a requirement. Still, I’m always amazed at how campaigns choose to invest – in terms of both money and time – in their websites.

There are plenty of ways to stand up a quality web site with a small outlay of actual dollars. Clearly the prorogation of open source software has helped in this regard. I currently volunteer for a campaign that has built it’s website on the LAMP stack. We use the phenomenally useful PHP blogging platform WordPress for our site. WordPress comes with an active community that contributes a wealth of different plugins that are available to do almost anything a campaign (or any other kind of endeavor) could need.

But investment of dollars is only part of the equation. Anyone that works on a campaign website needs to be aware of security issues (at least the obvious ones), and must take steps to mitigate risks. This is the part that is so often missed, even by campings with deep pockets.

I had occasion recently to peruse the website of an elected official rumored to be interested in the same job my candidate is running for. Within about 2 minutes of looking at the site I happened upon a gaping security hole that looked like it was exposing sensitive information for the official in question, and a bunch of other campaigns. I have no idea how long the hole existed, or if anyone else happened upon it.

Based on what I saw, the issue in question could probably be fixed with a one line change to the servers’ Apache configuration file. The server with the gaping hole is maintained by a third-party company that claims to be a leader in supporting campaigns through the use of technology. The lesson here – ask your consultants about security, and if needed get an objective outside opinion. This doesn’t cost much (if anything) but does require some time and attention.

Fortunately for the official in question, my candidate likes a fair fight. Our campaign contacted the other candidate with information on the security hole, and suggestions for how to work with their consultant to get it fixed. Hopefully, they’ll do this soon.

I’d like to think this will get us some good karma down the road in the event that the campaign gets ugly – we’ll see…

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