As the 2020 U.S. Presidential election approaches, Microsoft is getting ready to release several new tools to shore up security for political parties and candidates and at the ballot box.
In June, the tech giant will release a new version of Microsoft 365 — a combined offering that includes Windows 10, Office 365 and the Enterprise Mobility + Security suite — designed specifically for candidates and parties. The discounted offering comes with simplified security protections for groups that don’t have dedicated IT staffs and access to Microsoft’s AccountGuard threat detection program.
AccountGuard today is used by more than 36,000 email accounts across 26 countries, Microsoft said. Email security is paramount in the political sphere, Microsoft says, since most cyberattacks boil down to someone clicking on a phishing message.
Microsoft is offering M365 for Campaigns for $5 per user per month for all federal election campaigns, federal candidate committees and national party committees in the United States. Microsoft is eying expanding the service to other countries.
It’s not just campaigns and candidates that are under attack, but also voting systems. This summer, Microsoft will release an open-source ElectionGuard Software Development Kit that aims to secure election results and make systems more transparent for campaigns and voters.
Microsoft is working with Portland-based cybersecurity company Galois on the project. The initiative will “enable end-to-end verification of elections, open results to third-party organizations for secure validation, and allow individual voters to confirm their votes were correctly counted,” according to a blog post from Microsoft.
ElectionGuard is not meant to replace paper ballots or support a move toward online voting, Microsoft said, instead it is designed to modernize and secure existing voting systems. Already, Microsoft says it has partnerships with election technology suppliers responsible for more than half of voting machines sold in the U.S.
Microsoft also plans to publish a guide that includes recommended security practices on Windows 10 and a modern voting application integrated with the Xbox Adaptive Controller to improve accessibility.
Microsoft has fashioned itself as a defender of democracy — it’s right there in the name of the company’s election security initiatives — against hackers and other cyber threats. The company says it has foiled attacks on European elections, taken on Russian hackers and snuffed out groups tied to Iran, among others.
Part of this emphasis on security is out of necessity. Windows 10 is on more than 800 million devices, and it has been shown to be used at the highest levels. Attackers have taken advantage of Microsoft vulnerabilities, specifically those that haven’t been kept up to date, in some of the biggest cyber intrusions in recent years.