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Google Analytics — Yes, it is a security risk

Obama’s website, Mountain View’s javascript

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Easy identification?

Where the four disagree is how easy it would be for Obama insiders or others to identify a plot as sinister as a rogue urchin.js that steals session details from Change.gov. Because the code would be pushed to anyone using Google Analytics, the malicious payload would surely be noticed by millions of people and quickly reported, Campbell says.

Cruz, along with Jeremiah Grossman, CTO of White Hat Security, a firm that does web application security assessments, isn’t so sure. That’s because execution of the urchin file is automatic and seamless, and there is no easy way to view its source code.

“When and if the code behind urchin changes, I don’t think anybody notices,“ he says. “It will probably change regularly to fix bugs and add features and I don’t think anybody notices.“

Naysayers also pointed out — correctly as far as we can tell — that Google is a highly trusted company that millions of people rely on every day for quick, reliable analytical information about their website traffic, email and other services. What reason do we have to think anyone inside the company would do something as nefarious as this?

The real question should be: Why is the future President of the United States building a .gov website that makes such a scenario possible? Ask 10 security auditors if it’s a good idea to put any third-party company’s javascript on an administrative panel to a website where security is paramount and they’ll all say no. And yet this is exactly what Obama’s webmaster appears to have done.

“They’re making bad security mistakes,“ says Jeff Williams, CEO of web application security firm Aspect Security and chair of OWASP. “There’s no reason for them to be that careless. They have a bazillion dollars in the bank and it’s not that hard to get a login form right.“

It’s hard to see exactly what benefit comes from adding Google Analytics to a page the presumably only a few hundred people at most will access. Certainly, there’s more to lose from this than there is to gain. Remember, too, that computers from Obama’s campaign were already breached once by sophisticated overseas attackers who made off with large amounts of data. What makes us think malicious hackers aren’t more determined than ever to penetrate his site now that he won the election?

(We reached out again to Blue State Digital, the firm that built the content management system for Change.gov, but they turned down our request for an interview. The company still hasn’t said whether the system has been audited by an outside security firm.)

“They’re creating additional vulnerability surface and there’s no clear business case for why they’re doing it,“ says Campbell. “I think it was an oversight on their part.“ ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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