Microsoft seeks to defend integrity of EU elections

By Dylan Bushell-Embling
Thursday, 21 February, 2019

Microsoft seeks to defend integrity of EU elections

In an effort to limit interference in the upcoming European Parliament elections, Microsoft is extending its free AccountGuard add-on to political organisations in 12 more European markets.

Microsoft AccountGuard has been developed as part of the company’s Defending Democracy program. It is designed to provide notification of cyber threats — including attacks by known nation-state actors — across email systems run by organisations and the personal accounts of individual staff.

AccountGuard is available as a free add-on to Office 365 for political candidates and parties, as well as think-tanks, non-profits and non-governmental organisations working on issues related to democracy and electoral integrity.

When threats are detected, Microsoft will notify the affected organisations and work with them to secure their systems.

Microsoft has now extended AccountGuard to the markets of France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain. It is already available in the UK and Ireland, as well as the US and Canada.

To coincide with the expanded launch, Microsoft disclosed that it has detected recent threat activity targeting democratic institutions in Europe as part of the work of its Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) and Digital Crimes Unit (DCU).

These attacks are targeting both political campaigns themselves and organisations that are likely to be in contact with government officials, such as political think-tanks and non-profits.

For example, the company said it had recently detected attacks targeting employees of the German Council on Foreign Relations, The Aspen Institutes in Europe and The German Marshall Fund.

The attacks, many of which can be traced to a group Microsoft calls Strontium, used spearphishing campaigns to seek to gain access to accounts belonging to employees located in Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Romania and Serbia.

“Europe is regarded as the ‘birthplace of democracy’. It was here that the principles of representative democracy were laid down — principles that have since been replicated across the globe. However, as the ongoing attacks demonstrate, this idea is increasingly under threat,” Microsoft Corporate Vice President for Customer Security and Trust Tom Burt said in a blog post.

“We believe the work of organizations like The German Marshall Fund and its Alliance for Securing Democracy are an essential part of efforts to secure democracies against those who seek to undermine it. Many organizations essential to democracy do not have the resources or expertise to defend themselves against cyberattacks. That is why we believe that technology providers have a responsibility to help.”

Microsoft’s announcement came one day after Twitter announced a new policy covering the EU as well as Australia that will require all political parties and candidates advertising on the platform to complete a multi-stage verification process.

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