South Carolina has taken steps to protect the security of the electronic systems it will use in its presidential primary following reports that an alleged "hacktivist" group might try to shut down the Iowa caucuses.

The alleged threat comes as attention focuses on the Republican presidential primary's early nominating states, many of which use online or electronic systems to compile vote counts reported by local elections officials.

"Any time you are dealing with an Internet site, you have something that could be compromised," said Chris Whitmire, a public information officer with the South Carolina Election Commission.

South Carolina employs an online system that logs vote counts entered by elections officials and posts them to the Internet. It has asked for extra vigilance from the Web providers that host the database.

"But even in the worst-case scenario, if the site is compromised, we will know it. The actual results on Jan. 21 won't be touched," Whitmire said.

The alleged threat targeting the Iowa contest, first reported Monday by The Associated Press, surfaced in a YouTube video in which a computer-generated voice encourages viewers to "peacefully shut down" the state's Jan. 3 caucuses.

The video purports to come from Anonymous, the group made famous this year for its cyber-attack on PayPal in retaliation for the company's refusal to field donations for WikiLeaks.

"We are calling on you to occupy the campaign offices of presidential headquarters … and peacefully shut down the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3," the voice in the video says.

The video does not mention other states, but its warning was enough to put South Carolina officials on alert.

"Everybody in the computer security world is aware of [Anonymous] and its capabilities. Their threats are not taken lightly," Whitmire said.

A compromised presidential nominating contest would be perhaps the most public breach yet in a long wave of cyber-attacks that has hit government agencies and corporations like Citigroup, Sony and Lockheed Martin.

Just on Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was compromised by Chinese hackers for what may have been more than a year, ending in May 2010.

It would also come more than a decade after the greatest U.S. election debacle in memory: the presidential election in Florida, in 2000, when more than 113,000 voters cast ballots for two or more candidates.

Though not all early nominating states are rushing to boost their systems in the wake of the alleged Anonymous video — New Hampshire's Jan. 10 primary will be paper-based and thus much less vulnerable — computer security experts say that the risks of workaday online elections tools are only just starting to be understood.

"Web security these days is getting worse, not getting better," said Douglas Jones, a professor of computer science at the University of Iowa who has been involved in past caucuses.

"Even systems created by skilled professionals have loopholes," Jones said.

In most U.S. jurisdictions, Web voting remains in its infancy and elections run on a combination of electronics and paper records.

In past Iowa caucuses, however, precinct leaders have used an automated phone system to report their results to state officials.

Both that system and South Carolina's could be disabled or tampered with given fairly simple skills and equipment, said Jones, who suggested that would-be hackers could overwhelm or merely enter false data in a phone or online system.

His concern, he said, is that candidates could make decisions based on bad information before it is corrected.

"Chances are, states have done the obvious [security] checks," he said.

"But the horserace reporting is far more important than the official results, in terms of determining the outcome in these states."

Officials in Florida and Nevada, whose nominating contests are scheduled for late January and early February, were not available to comment by deadline.

This story was updated at 9:32 a.m.