By Robert Hackett
August 21, 2018

Microsoft said starting Tuesday it will offer free cybersecurity tools to U.S. political candidates, campaign offices, and affiliated groups ahead of the midterm elections.

Microsoft made the protections available after disclosing that last week it had thwarted a digital attack in the making by a group of hackers linked to the Russian government. The tech giant said it had taken over six spoofed internet domains associated with the U.S. Senate and two conservative think tanks that were likely to be used in espionage-related phishing attacks.

“This initiative will provide state-of-the-art cybersecurity protection at no extra cost to all candidates and campaign offices at the federal, state and local level, as well as think tanks and political organizations we now believe are under attack,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, in a post on the company’s blog.

The cybersecurity service, dubbed Microsoft AccountGuard has three parts, as laid out in another blog post. First, it includes threat detection and security notifications across people’s work and personal email accounts. Second, it offers educational materials and live training sessions for participating organizations. And lastly, it provides these groups with early access to new security features.

There are stipulations: Microsoft’s free tools are available only in the U.S. and only to customers of Office 365, the company’s flagship enterprise software suite. Smith said the company is looking to expand its offerings to additional countries “in the coming months,” Smith said.

Microsoft’s release follows the debut of similar efforts by other tech giants. Google began offering stronger account protections for risk users last year as well as free website defense services to U.S. political groups in May. And Facebook has undertaken a number of measures—ranging from eliminating fake accounts, boosting ad transparency, and curbing fake news—since the fall.

Microsoft said its AccountGuard tools are an extension of its “defending democracy program,” an initiative the company unveiled in April that aims to bring together governments, tech companies, academia, and the public to secure the integrity of the electoral process.

“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 said. “We’re committed to doing our part by helping to protect candidates and campaigns in preserving their voices and votes no matter what party they support.”

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