Microsoft offers security service to political parties, candidates

Office 365-based threat notification service brought to Australia

Microsoft has brought AccountGuard to Australia, offering the free security service to candidates, parties, and campaign offices that operate at a state or national level. AccountGuard is also available to eligible Australian think tanks and associated entities.

Microsoft in April 2018 launched its Defending Democracy Program, which the software vendor said had four aims: Protecting campaigns from hacking, increasing the transparency of online advertising, exploring technological solutions to help protect electoral processes, and defending against disinformation campaigns.

In August it unveiled Microsoft AccountGuard as an expansion of the program, initially making the service available to US candidates and campaign offices, as well as selected other political organisations.

AccountGuard is available for organisations that use Office 365.

In a blog post announcing the service, Microsoft’s corporate vice president, customer security & trust, Tom Burt, wrote that AccountGuard has three core components. One is a unified threat detection and notification service. It is designed to provide security alerts during attacks, including from known nation-state actors. Alerts are sent to organisations as well as individuals with registered Outlook.com or Hotmail.com addresses.

“When we detect threats, we’ll work directly with participating organizations to notify them and help them secure their systems,” Burt wrote.

The other two components of AccountGuard are access to best practice guidance and other material related to security challenges for political organisations, and access to private previews of security features.

“While AccountGuard does not replace existing security solutions and best practice, it is a useful tool in political parties’ kitbags to protect them and their candidates from unwanted interference,” Tom Daemen, director of corporate, external and legal affairs at Microsoft Australia & New Zealand, wrote in an article announcing the local launch of the service.

In addition to the US and Australia, Microsoft said the service is available in Canada, India, the UK, Ireland and 12 other European markets.

The federal government last month revealed that the parliamentary computing network had been hacked, with the government saying it believed a “sophisticated state actor” was behind the incident. The government said that during subsequent investigations led by the Australian Cyber Security Centre evidence was found that the same miscreant had penetrated the networks of major political parties.

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