Web Security and New Media in Politics

FACT: The Obama presidential campaign has been lauded for innovative uses of the Web and social media, particularly for fundraising and volunteer recruitment.  But as PC World has just reported, “Two months after their Web site was hacked, the organizers of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign are looking for a network security expert to help lock down their Web site…. Security experts said this is the first time they can remember seeing a Web security job advertised for a political campaign.”

ANALYSIS:  I wrote before about my experience in 1994-95 helping build one of the Internet’s first political campaign websites – I designed the content and wrote much of it, for Mayor Frank Jordan of San Francisco.  (The pages were literally built and posted by mayoral son Thomas Jordan, by the way, who was then a college student at UC-Berkeley; he went on to great things at Pixar.)   At the time, with such a simple site, we didn’t have to worry much about security – or so we thought, and luckily the worst scandal in those early years involved domain-squatting by certain rival campaigns.

As PC World points out, though, “Obama’s Web site, built by Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes, has been the model of Web 2.0 campaigning, using social-networking techniques to raise funds and build a broad base of active, Internet-savvy supporters. But security experts have long warned that powerful Web site features also open new avenues for attack.”

The Obama campaign is now being raked over the coals in conservative blogs; one wrote yesterday, “the official Barack Obama campaign web site is full of utterly amateurish security problems, such as open directory listings… People who donate money to Barack Obama through his web site ought to be very concerned about giving this group of amateurs their personal information; the campaign apparently puts almost no value on internet security.”  Hence, the ad for the security expert I suppose.

In an effort to benefit both sides — Ah, how I love bipartisanship! — Microsoft is doing what it can to help both the Democratic and Republican parties in this election year.  Each of the major parties have now announced that they will be using Microsoft as a key supplier for this summer’s national conventions.

The Democratic National Committee and convention staff made their announcement back in April (see News.com’s “Democrats Vote for Microsoft.”  At the time, I felt I shouldn’t highlight it on my blog since I’m pretty nonpartisan and frankly nonpolitical in this forum.  But yesterday the Republicans announced their plans as well, covering the spectrum (see the story at CNN Money.com). 

(We still don’t have the Libertarians or Ralph Nader, hmmm….  and the Socialist International argues on its “World Socialist Web Site” that “The truth is that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are both instruments of the American ruling elite, whose differences are tactical rather than fundamental.”  Oh well.)

This bipartisan approach is getting positive coverage for Microsoft, and it’s also nice amid the swirl of Yahoo news (though that’s driving our stock up). As an example of the coverage in the blogosphere see Cnet blogger Ina Fried.  Ina pointed out that the parties will be able to use some of our just-emerging social technologies like Web 2.0 approaches for volunteer management, and Surface computing for photo-sharing.   The Democrats will be using Silverlight to push out HD converage of convention proceedings in new and exciting ways.

That all underlines what Republican convention head Maria Cino said yesterday: “Microsoft stands as one of America’s success stories, always at the leading edge of technology.” Nice!

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