Microsoft is offering new security tools to political campaigns — some measures with a level of technology usually reserved for government and big corporate customers — as it expands its efforts to stifle hacking attempts from foreign entities.
The Redmond company announced late Monday a new set of tools, called AccountGuard, that will closely watch hacking attacks and attempts made against campaigns, and notify their staff when threats occur. Microsoft will also offer training for staffers on how to make accounts more secure, and let them test new security tools “on a par” with the features Microsoft sells to government and corporate clients.
The AccountGuard services will be included for free to campaigns, candidates, think tanks and other political groups that are Office 365 customers. The service is the newest part of Microsoft’s Defending Democracy program announced this spring, which aims to make elections secure.
Microsoft pointed to the need to expand security efforts, saying it seized six website domains last week, with the help of a court order, that belonged to hacking group Fancy Bear. The group is believed to have ties to the Russian government and was behind the 2016 hack against the Democratic Party.
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That group and others like it use domains such as senate.group and office365-onedrive.com to give the appearance of a trusted organization when they send out phishing emails. The emails could be used to obtain passwords and infiltrate political organizations.
So far, Microsoft has shut down 84 of these fake domains set up by Fancy Bear in the past two years. The company also revealed last month that it thwarted two attempts last fall by hackers trying to get inside two Senate candidate campaigns, including Missouri Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill’s.
The number of hacking attempts has ticked up as midterm election campaigns get underway, Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote in a blog post Monday. It’s widely believed the threats aren’t as numerous as they were during the 2016 elections, but cybersecurity executives say they are still serious.
“We can only keep our democratic societies secure if candidates can run campaigns and voters can go to the polls untainted by foreign cyberattacks,” Smith wrote.