Microsoft Launches New Solutions to Protect Elections From Hacking

In an effort to make voting more secure and protect political parties and campaigns from cyberattacks, Microsoft this week added new solutions to its previously announced Defending Democracy Program.

The new solutions include ElectionGuard, a free open-source software development kit (SDK) developed in collaboration with Galois, and Microsoft 365 for Campaigns, a new service that brings high-end security capabilities to political campaigns. 

The new service, Microsoft says, can keep political campaigns safe from phishing attacks, provides easy to deploy advanced security features, and comes at a lower price point compared to other email security solutions.

With many political campaigns lacking dedicated IT support staff, M365 for Campaigns aims to resolve this with streamlined configuration and setup of high-impact security settings.

The service will be available for $5 per user per month, the same price provided to non-profit philanthropic organizations, Microsoft says. 

Additionally, campaigns using the service will have free access to Microsoft’s AccountGuard service, which provides notification about cyber-threats, including attacks by known nation-state actors, and which currently offers protection to over 36,000 email accounts in 26 countries. 

Microsoft will make M365 for Campaigns available in June to all federal election campaigns, federal candidate committees, and national party committees in the United States. The company is also looking into making it available to other countries in the future.

Set to make voting secure, more accessible, and more efficient, the newly introduced ElectionGuard SDK promises end-to-end verification of elections and can open results to third-party organizations for secure validation, while also allowing individual voters to confirm their votes were correctly counted. 

The SDK will become available this summer to election officials and technology suppliers to incorporate it into voting systems, but Microsoft says it has already partnered with suppliers responsible for more than half of the voting machines sold in the U.S. 

The company is also building a reference voting system that will become available later this year, to showcase the capabilities that ElectionGuard enables.

“ElectionGuard is not intended to replace paper ballots but rather to supplement and improve systems that rely on them, and it is not designed to support internet voting. In short, ElectionGuard is a new tool for use by the existing election community and government entities that run elections,” Microsoft notes. 

Voting systems built using ElectionGuard are verifiable (results can be checked by voters and third-party organizations), secure (leverage Microsoft Research’s encryption techniques), and auditable (support risk-limiting audits). 

The SDK is offered open source and can be used with off-the-shelf hardware, and can make voting better by supporting standard accessibility tools and improving the voting experience.

The SDK will be available through GitHub in summer. Microsoft is already working with election technology suppliers who are interested in incorporating ElectionGuard into their current offerings or in building new product lines to include the technology. 

Related: Russian Hackers Target European Governments Ahead of Elections: FireEye

Related: HR1 Bill Includes Provisions to Improve U.S. Election Security

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Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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