Experts Say White House’s Call for Coders Was Risky

Still pretty clever

Key Takeaways

  • The White House website hid a message in its HTML code calling to hire coders for its technology team.
  • Experts say the "Easter egg" way of hiding messages isn’t necessarily the right thing to do in terms of cybersecurity.
  • The administration taking a step to prioritize hiring developers is a good thing, though.
The White House South Lawn, Washington DC
joe daniel price / Getty Images

A few days after President Biden was sworn into office, people noticed a secret message hidden in the White House’s new website calling to hire coders. 

The message hidden in the website’s HTML reads, "If you're reading this, we need your help building back better. https://usds.gov." Of course, only those looking for something could find the code, which is why experts say Easter eggs like this are not a good move for cybersecurity.

"When you write software, the way you present information to users should be through [a] defined interface. [But] implying that by poking around and looking in unusual places they might find something useful, I think that encourages the wrong kind of behavior," Ed Amoroso, the CEO of TAG Cyber, told Lifewire in a phone interview.

The Message Behind the Message 

First found by a Twitter user, the now not-so-secretive call for coders to join the White House technology team—known as US Digital Services—was meant for those tech-savvy and curious enough to look at the White House’s HTML code during the first few days of the new administration.

The tactic of hiding secret messages, or "Easter eggs," within HTML code is nothing new and has been used by all kinds of companies for various reasons. Take, for example, the one time Microsoft Word turned into a pinball machine if a user typed "blue" in a Word document, bolded it, then turned the word the color blue. 

But Amoroso said the White House website should focus on security and attracting the right kind of programming and coding candidates, rather than focusing on the trendiness of the hunt to find a hidden Easter egg.

"In software engineering, we don't really like that kind of thing…it should be a clearly defined secure safe interface," he said.

Full Frame Shot Of Computer Language with "PASSWORD" highlighted
Przemyslaw Klos / EyeEm / Getty Images

Amoroso said Easter eggs encourage people to poke around, and while that’s certainly a quality need for a coder, it’s not necessarily a quality to be included in the White House’s website, as far as cybersecurity concerns go. 

"I get what they were trying to do, but by encouraging people to poke around, where does that end?" he said.  

Prioritizing Tech in the New Administration 

However, even if experts believe the way the White House went about asking for coders to apply wasn’t the best route, Amoroso said it’s an excellent thing the administration is making an effort to prioritize technology. 

"It’s wonderful [for them] to be looking for developers and to improve online infrastructures," he said. 

Coders who are hired on will work for the US Digital Services technology team, made up of designers, engineers, and digital policy experts. The team, founded by President Barack Obama in 2014, is tasked with technology-related matters, such as modernizing government websites and platforms.

Rear view of female computer hacker coding at desk in creative office
Maskot / Getty Images

Amoroso previously told Lifewire that the Biden administration needs to adopt a successful cybersecurity plan that addresses the primary concerns.

The White House’s call for coders couldn’t come at a better time, with younger people entering the cybersecurity field in high demand. A Check Point Software Technologies survey from November 2020 showed that 78% of organizations said they have a cyber skills shortage.

However, Amoroso added that coders with an eye for cybersecurity would be especially useful for this administration. 

"Software developers build infrastructure and, nowadays, we all know that there are practices that you can follow when you're doing software development that will reduce security risk," he said. "It’s important to look for developers with more experience with security."

If you’re a coder with an eye for cybersecurity, it doesn’t hurt to apply. US Digital Services is asking those interested to reach out to them directly about applying for a position.

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