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US Election Swing States Score Low Marks in Cybersecurity

C and D grades for Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Ohio, SecurityScorecard assessment shows.

Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Ohio each earned either C or D averages in their cybersecurity posture, according to new data from a security ratings firm.

SecurityScorecard in its annual report on US, state, and local government-sector security studied the states' state of security in endpoint, IP reputation, network, and patching, and found them seriously lacking. Florida and Ohio earned a C grade overall; New Hampshire, Nevada, and an undisclosed city in Michigan each scored a D average; and one unnamed county in Florida scored a C, while one in Ohio earned a D.

The grading system is based on SecurityScorecard's benchmarking platform, which aggregates data from millions of sensors across the Internet that gather and analyze public-facing security postures of IP addresses and identifiable software versions and services, and then maps them to organizations, including browser versions and patching cadence. "We're looking at what a hacker would look it" online, says Alex Heid, chief research officer at SecurityScorecard. The firm analyzed the security posture of 655 government agencies, each of which had more than 100 public-facing IP addresses.

Among the systems spotted in the analysis were state and local voter registration systems, many of which run older legacy software that contains common Web vulnerabilities such as SQL injection and remote code execution bugs, Heid says. But even if a malicious hacker were to detect and hack into one of those systems, it wouldn't necessarily affect the voting process, he says, even if he or she changed some names and information, because those systems typically have backups and lots of redundancy.

"The bigger risk is an innocuous Web app compromise on a server that is then used to pivot to the rest of the network behind the firewall," Heid notes. "If the voter registration server is on the same server as the county court system payments," for example, that would be exposed, he says.

The states' grades are based on a snapshot in time for the government agencies' security postures and doesn't necessarily mean those states are poorly secured or that any states with A's are secure. "It's fluid and indicates how they are doing at that time," he says. "Everyone has vulnerabilities and exploitable conditions. It's measured based on how quickly they respond to those conditions."

The fact that New Hampshire barely passed with a D doesn't mean elections held there are more hackable, for example, so the grades don't mean much in terms of the security of the 2018 elections, he says.

Dam Webcam
Among the exposed systems SecurityScorecard's study found was a city power plant server sitting on the public Internet that was accessible via a Web browser. "You see the dam's Web cam, and there's a big red button that says 'open dam,'" he says. The company contacted the site so it could remedy the exposure, he says.

Overall, government agencies score lower than most other sectors in endpoint security, network security, and patching cadence, according to the findings.

"Government has a lower grade, similar to university systems. It's not that they are bad at security," but more that governmental organizations typically have older systems in place and require more layers of approvals or patching and other updates, he says.

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Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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