Why Political Campaigns Are Turning Down Free Cybersecurity Help

Cybersecurity companies say they are offering free services to prevent more hacking incidents. But the ethics for candidates are fuzzy.

By Alexandra HartMay 17, 2019 12:58 pm,

A number of political campaigns have been hacked, including those of John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Barack Obama and the chair of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016. But even with so much evidence of ill intent from American adversaries, some current campaigns are turning away cybersecurity companies’ offers to help.

Joe Uchill,  a cybersecurity reporter for Axios, says political campaigns are turning down cybersecurity companies’ offers of donated help for a variety of reasons. And the Federal Election Commission, or FEC, is currently considering the legality of such offers.

“The general feeling so far with the FEC has been, there needs to be a balance between offering free services – which a lot of companies want to do for both marketing and civic pride reasons – and having campaigns beholden to the tech companies,” Uchill says.

Even if the FEC does decide that all of these free services are allowed, campaigns still may turn cybersecurity companies down due to a lack of trust.

“They saw companies with funny-looking names that they hadn’t heard of before,” Uchill says. “They didn’t want to risk buying into snake oil by taking in a free service as opposed to getting a legitimate service.”

While it might be more ethical for campaigns to pay for the security these companies are offering, Uchill says many local and regional campaign offices cannot afford higher-end services.

“They aren’t operations that can afford to spend as much money as IT as big businesses,” Uchill says. “Even though they are visible as large companies, they’re not as well-resourced as large companies.”

Nonprofit organizations, as well as private companies, are offering free cybersecurity, which Uchill says will allow the industry to improve. But he says a problem arises when politicians who accept these free services have to make governing decisions related to technology.

“Do you want them to feel beholden to a tech company offering them free services?” Uchill says. “That’s a balance that the FEC will have to strike.”


Written by Sara Schleede.