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Thursday, 18 July 2019 11:28

Microsoft unveils software to guard against election fraud

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Microsoft ElectionGuard demos on 17 July at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado. Microsoft ElectionGuard demos on 17 July at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado. Courtesy Microsoft

Microsoft has unveiled a software solution known as ElectionGuard at a security forum in Aspen, Colorado, even as it said it had informed 10,000 of its customers of being targeted or compromised by nation-state attackers in the last 12 months.

Tom Burt, corporate vice-president, Customer Security and Trust, said in a blog post on Wednesday that 84% of these customers were businesses and the remainder were individuals whose email was targeted.

He said most of these attacks originated from three countries: Russia, Iran and North Korea. He did not mention China which is generally the default choice when US officials ladle out the blame for cyber attacks.

Last year, Microsoft launched a security offering known as AccountGuard, which works with Office 365, a paid service. It was described at the time as "a security service designed to provide additional critical cyber protection to customers operating in the political sphere. It forms a key plank in our Defending Democracy initiative".

ElectionGuard is also part of this Defending Democracy initiative. Burt said since the launch of AccountGuard, numerous attacks aimed at organisations that were fundamental to democracy had been uncovered.

"While this service is relatively new, we’ve already made 781 notifications of nation-state attacks targeting organisations participating in AccountGuard," he wrote.

"This data shows that democracy-focused organisations in the US should be particularly concerned as 95% of these attacks have targeted US-based organisations. By nature, these organisations are critical to society, but have fewer resources to protect against cyber attacks than large enterprises."

The ElectionGuard solution has been designed for people to vote on the screen of a Microsoft Surface devices or using the Xbox Adaptive Controller.

"People using the demo will be provided with a tracking code that, when voting is complete, they will be able to enter into a website to confirm their vote was counted and not altered; the website will not display their actual votes," Burt wrote.

"The demo will show how ElectionGuard can enable end-to-end verifiable elections for the first time while retaining the familiarity and certainty of paper ballots."

He said ElectionGuard was available as an open-source offering on the Microsoft-owned GitHub code repository.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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