In September of 2018, an anonymous independent security researcher (who we’ll call X) noticed that their power company’s website was offering to email—not reset!—lost account passwords to forgetful users. Startled, X fed the online form the utility account number and the last four phone number digits it was asking for. Sure enough, a few minutes later the account password, in plain text, was sitting in X’s inbox.
This was frustrating and insecure, and it shouldn’t have happened at all in 2018. But this turned out to be a flaw common to websites designed by the Atlanta firm SEDC. After finding SEDC’s copyright notices in the footer of the local utility company’s website, X began looking for more customer-facing sites designed by SEDC. X found and confirmed SEDC’s footer—and the same offer to email plain-text passwords—in more than 80 utility company websites.
Those companies service 15 million or so clients (estimated from GIS data and in some cases from PR brags on the utility sites themselves). But the real number of affected Americans could easily be several times that large: SEDC itself claims that more than 250 utility companies use its software.