Andrew Yang, Joe Biden Come Up Short on Cybersecurity Despite Campaign Promises, Analysis Shows

Presidential candidates Andrew Yang and Joe Biden aren't prepared in terms of online safety, a website security company's analysis shows.

The company, SiteLock, looked at the online practices of a dozen Democratic and Republican candidates in the 2020 presidential race—including President Donald Trump—and found that Yang and Biden trail their competitors when it comes to their stances on cybersecurity and their campaign's practices to deter malicious online attacks.

The results, SiteLock Chief Innovation Officer Neill Feather said, were reminiscent of what the company sees when working with small businesses, which are its primary clients: More than half the candidates are using out-of-date cybersecurity software.

"What we found was that no one is performing perfectly, and I think that's something that everybody can learn, from an overall cybersecurity perspective," Feather said. "There is never a perfect solution. You're really working toward getting better and being as proactive as you can."

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Yang is a 44-year-old entrepreneur whose platform has centered on finding solutions to what he see as a doomsday economic issue: automation. He was awarded a D+, or 68 percent, for his overall cybersecurity awareness, as part of a new SiteLock 2020 candidate "report card." Biden, the former vice president who's billed himself as the most viable option to unseating Trump, scored a C-, or 71 percent.

Cybersecurity remains a leading issue in American politics in the wake of Russian election interference, which in 2016 included stealing emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee. And a failure by 2020 presidential hopefuls to properly secure their campaigns could mean more occurrences of stolen information.

In assessing the dozen politicians' digital practices as a whole, SiteLock concluded that candidates aren't prepared with online protections against bad actors.

Andrew Yang cybersecurity awareness
Democratic presidential candidate, entrepreneur Andrew Yang speaks at a campaign rally on September 30 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty

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Yang and Amy Klobuchar, who came in just 4 percentage points ahead of Biden, with a C, have promised to make cybersecurity threats a top priority as president, while Biden has made little mention of the topic.

Yang's campaign spokesman, S.Y. Lee, rejected SiteLock's findings, saying that they did not "reflect our actual cybersecurity protocols and practices."

Lee said the campaign was asked by SiteLock several weeks ago to confirm certain practices it uses, but it "refused to divulge that information" for fear of putting itself at risk of cyberattacks. He said that SiteLock's evaluation of the Yang campaign was "incorrect and incomplete."

"A key protocol for cybersecurity on our campaign is to refuse to reveal information about our cybersecurity practices to external organizations that can be leveraged by malicious actors and put our organization at risk," Lee told Newsweek. "The Yang 2020 campaign takes cybersecurity seriously, and we have hired an internal team of cybersecurity experts that constantly ensures that we adhere to industry best practices."

Weld's campaign was the only other one that responded to Newsweek's request for comment and is detailed further below.

SiteLock's researchers used publicly available resources and their own risk assessment tool to probe for vulnerabilities in the candidates' websites, then scored each 2020 candidate on cybersecurity awareness based on four main categories: cybersecurity platform, cybersecurity actions, privacy and data practices, and email security factors. No "intrusive or disruptive technologies" were used against the campaigns, the company said.

The results showed that Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker came out on top with the only A's, followed by Senator Bernie Sanders with a B+; Trump, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and former U.S. Representative Beto O'Rourke with a B; Senator Kamala Harris with a B-; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, a Republican, with a C+; Klobuchar with a C; Biden with a C-; and Yang with a D+.

When reviewing the campaigns, SiteLock said, it evaluated the cybersecurity platform—a candidate's 2020 policy proposals, whether he or she was involved in a previous security breach and if the politician's email has been found on the dark web; cybersecurity actions—an analysis of a campaign website's protections and if there's up-to-date software to thwart attacks; privacy and data—whether the candidate has a published privacy policy on the campaign website that has a cookie disclosure and says whether a user's data is shared with third parties; and email factors—the candidate uses strong message authentication and deploys CAPTCHA responses on email forms and login pages meant to weed out robotic software programs.

The cybersecurity company's 2020 presidential report card came as Democratic candidates prepare to square off against one another in a Tuesday night debate. It also came just weeks after Microsoft said that it believed cyberattacks tried to breach the email accounts of a 2020 presidential campaign, government officials and journalists and that the attacks were tied to the Iranian government.

Reuters reported that Trump's campaign was the one targeted, but a spokesman denied that notion, telling the news outlet they had no indications of an attempted security breach.

SiteLock's researchers withheld some specifics about vulnerabilities to protect the candidates' campaigns from potential cyberattacks.

Read each candidate's full evaluation below.

2020 candidates cybersecurity awareness
This chart shows how the top 2020 presidential candidates scored in SiteLock's cybersecurity awareness report card. SiteLock

Elizabeth Warren

  • Cybersecurity platform - Warren is an advocate for stronger cybersecurity practices, which put her near the top in this category.
  • Cybersecurity actions - Warren had a strong performance in this category.
  • Privacy and data - All candidates performed equally well here.
  • Email factors - Warren performed on par with other candidates here.

Cory Booker

  • Cybersecurity platform – Booker's support for cybersecurity policy puts him near the top in this category.
  • Cybersecurity actions - Booker had a strong performance in this category.
  • Privacy and data - All candidates performed equally well here.
  • Email factors - Booker performed on par with other candidates here.

Bernie Sanders

  • Cybersecurity platform - Sanders' support for cybersecurity policy puts him near the top in this category.
  • Cybersecurity actions - Sanders had a strong performance in this category.
  • Privacy and data - All candidates performed equally well here.
  • Email factors - Sanders performed below average compared with the other candidates here.

Donald Trump

  • Cybersecurity platform - Trump's lack of cybersecurity awareness in his platform for his 2020 run and his involvement in a past public breach put him near the bottom in this category. Trump's hotels in recent years have suffered three security breaches.
  • Cybersecurity actions - Trump led the pack in this category.
  • Privacy and data - All candidates performed equally well here.
  • Email factors - Trump performed on par with other candidates here.

Julian Castro

  • Cybersecurity platform - Castro was one of the leaders in this category because of his stance on cybersecurity and past security-related activity.
  • Cybersecurity actions - Castro falls in the middle of the pack for this category.
  • Privacy and data - All candidates performed equally well here.
  • Email factors - Castro performed on par with other candidates here.

Beto O'Rourke

  • Cybersecurity platform - O'Rourke was one of the leaders in this category because of his stance on cybersecurity and past security-related activity.
  • Cybersecurity actions - O'Rourke falls in the middle of the pack for this category.
  • Privacy and data - All candidates performed equally well here.
  • Email factors - O'Rourke performed on par with other candidates here.

Kamala Harris

  • Cybersecurity platform - Harris' support for cybersecurity policy puts her near the top in this category.
  • Cybersecurity actions - Harris performed below average in this category.
  • Privacy and data - All candidates performed equally well here.
  • Email factors - Harris received top marks in this category.

Pete Buttigieg

  • Cybersecurity platform – Buttigieg was one of the leaders in this category because of his stance on cybersecurity and past security-related activity.
  • Cybersecurity actions - Buttigieg falls in the middle of the pack in this category.
  • Privacy and data - All candidates performed equally well here.
  • Email factors - Buttigieg performed below average compared with the other candidates here.

Bill Weld

  • Cybersecurity platform - Weld's lack of support for cybersecurity awareness in his past activity and in his current political platform put him at the bottom of this category.
  • Cybersecurity actions - Weld falls in the middle of the pack in this category.
  • Privacy and data - All candidates performed equally well here.
  • Email factors - Weld performed on par with other candidates here.

Weld's communications director, Joe Hunter, told Newsweek that after consulting with tech experts, they were in the process of upgrading their practices regarding the campaign's website and email. He expressed confidence that once the campaign does, its overall cybersecurity practices would be regarded as above par.

"On the policy side, we are likewise in the midst of conversations with experts at leading tech firms to flesh out the Governor's cyber-security and tech policies," Hunter added, highlighting recent remarks Weld made to the media outlet Foreign Affairs.

Amy Klobuchar

  • Cybersecurity platform - Klobuchar's support for cybersecurity policy puts her near the top in this category.
  • Cybersecurity actions - Klobuchar performed below average in this category.
  • Privacy and data - All candidates performed equally well here.
  • Email factors - Klobuchar performed below average compared with other candidates here.

Joe Biden

  • Cybersecurity platform - No cybersecurity stance in his 2020 platform puts him toward the bottom in this category.
  • Cybersecurity actions - Biden performed below average in this category.
  • Privacy and data - All candidates performed equally well here.
  • Email factors - Biden performed on par with other candidates here.

Andrew Yang

  • Cybersecurity platform - Yang's lack of cyberawareness proposals or policies in the past puts him toward the bottom in this category.
  • Cybersecurity actions - Yang performed below average in this category.
  • Privacy and data - All candidates performed equally well here.
  • Email factors - Yang performed below average compared with other candidates here.

This story was updated to include remarks from Bill Weld's campaign.

Andrew Yang, Joe Biden Come Up Short on Cybersecurity Despite Campaign Promises, Analysis Shows | Politics