Authenticating Candidate Websites

I hadn't really thought about all the opportunities that a red-blooded identity thief would find in election campaigns. Of course the campaign websites are a perfect example of the “identity patchwork” problem described in the Laws of Identity: How can citizens possibly know whether a site is legitimate when each site offers a unique and unpredictable experience?

The technology described in this important piece from Government Technology is an attempt to unify that experience – in essence tying in with identity laws six and seven: human integration and consistent experience. While it is commendable to try to do something as quickly as possible, the technology proposed is subject to many kinds of attack as the criminal element adjusts to it. I'm not trying to make excellence an enemy of the good. I'm just saying that only a holistic and multi-layered approach such as that represented by the proposed identity metasystem can really respond to the threats so clearly articulated here in a way that lasts beyond a single campaign.

On Tuesday, Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson announced a new effort to protect voters from fraudulent websites in anticipation of the largest election in Kentucky history with more than 4,000 races on the ballot.

Grayson was joined by New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron. Kentucky and New Mexico will be the first states in the country to address fraudulent candidate websites.

The new service will be available, free-of-charge, to all candidates who file with the Office of the Secretary of State. The service utilizes technology developed by ElectionMall Technologies, Inc. The Election Security Seal Program provides an online environment in which viewers are assured they are dealing with the legitimate websites of candidates.

What it is:

  • The “Election Security Seal Program” is a program designed to verify the authenticity of political websites and protect political candidates, officials, groups and consumers against scams and false information associated with fraudulent political Web sites, through the use of an encrypted digital seal.
  • The program creates an official online “Registrar Directory” of legitimate political websites, including candidate sites, campaign sites, 527’s, political action group sites and other political organization sites. This registrar may then be used by the public to verify the authenticity of political websites.

How it works:

  • The political candidate, official or group registers through his or her appropriate Secretary of State. In the registration form, the candidate is asked if he/she would like to have the SOS seal appear on his/her candidate website to certify and authenticate the site.
  • The SOS office verifies the identity of the candidate/authenticity of the site.
  • The candidate is listed in the official Registrar Directory.
  • If the approved candidate/official wishes to add the SOS seal to their website, it will appear at the bottom of the site.
  • When a visitor clicks on the seal, it will redirect them to a site for official authentication.
  • The seal will have a scroll-over capability that will allow the visitor to see the certification.

“Protecting the integrity of Kentucky's elections is the highest priority for the Office of the Secretary of State and for the hundreds of local elections officials throughout the Commonwealth,” stated Secretary Grayson. “In the last few elections, political websites and online fundraising have proliferated, and so have concerns about fraudulent activity connected to such sites. Election administrators must protect citizens from fraudulent political websites, or we may run the risk of alienating potential voters.”

During the 2004 elections, 75 million Americans used the Internet to obtain political news and information, making the Internet and online campaigning a top focus and communications medium for politicians and political groups.

Secretary Grayson, the youngest Secretary of State in the country and current chairman of the National Association of Secretaries of State's Election's Committee, as well as the national chairman of the Republican Association of Secretaries of State, has encouraged other states to follow Kentucky's lead in this effort.

I recommend that identity geeks check out Election Security Seal Program White Paper. It contains quotes like these:

“During the 2004 campaign, thousands of voters who believed that they were participating in the political process were victims of fraudulent electronic mail and website solicitations.”

“Marc Elias, the chief counsel to John Kerry for President, testified that this kind of fraud is “the biggest threat the Internet poses to the political power of average Americans. If individual voices can be diminished by the concentration of economic power they can be silenced altogether when those individuals discover that their credit card information has been fraudulently captured, or that the contributions they thought they were making to a candidate went to someone else.” (Testimony before FEC hearing regarding Internet Communications on June 28, 2004).”

“According to a Pew Research Center Report, entitled The Internet and Campaign 2004, over four million people made on-line contributions to candidates during the 2004 election cycle. Many of these people were average Americans who became empowered by the Internet to engage in the political process. Unless security measures are taken to verify campaign websites, many other citizens will become victims of Internet fraud and will be less likely to engage in the political process in the future.”

We need to get more information on the technology being used. It would be doubly demoralizing if people who thought they were taking every reasonable precaution to ensure their protection were still, in fact, being duped.

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Published by

Kim Cameron

Work on identity.