With the growing cybersecurity threats, Microsoft took over six internet domains acting on a court order, and introduced AccountGuard for emails. Microsoft AccountGuard is a move extending their Defending Democracy Program which will be applicable to both organizational and personal email accounts.
Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) executed a court order to take over six internet domains created by a group known as Strontium, or alternatively Fancy Bear or APT28. The group is widely associated with the Russian government. The six internet domains, my-iri.org, hudsonorg-my-sharepoint.com, senate.group, adfs-senate.services, adfs-senate.email, office365-onedrive.com impersonated the real websites. Of late, there have been instances of foreign entities launching cyber strikes to disrupt elections.
What is Microsoft AccountGuard?
Microsoft AccountGuard will provide “state-of-the-art cybersecurity protection” without any additional cost. This applies to individuals, campaigns and related political institutions. Brad Smith, President at Microsoft stated: “To be clear, we currently have no evidence these domains were used in any successful attacks before the DCU transferred control of them, nor do we have evidence to indicate the identity of the ultimate targets of any planned attack involving these domains.”
The technology is free of charge to candidates, campaigns and related political institutions using Office 365.
Microsoft AccountGuard will provide these features:
- Cross-account threat detection and notification: Microsoft’s Threat Intelligence Center will enable them to detect and notify of attacks in a unified way on both organizational and personal emails. When threats are verified, Microsoft will provide personal and expedited recommendations to affected political campaigns and their staff to secure the concerned systems. The unified notification system will provide a comprehensive view of attacks against the campaign/organization.
- Security guidance and ongoing education: Microsoft will provide guidance to make officials’, political campaigns and eligible organizations to further secure their network and email systems. This includes multi-factor authentication, installing latest security update to control access of data. AccountGuard will also show updated briefings and training to address evolving cyber-attack trends.
- Early adopter opportunities: There will be preview releases of the new security features which are used in large corporate and government accounts. If you are eligible for Microsoft AccountGuard you can request an invitation to enroll.
A quick look at Microsoft’s Defending Democracy Program
The Defending Democracy Program is a global effort as Microsoft tries to scale its efforts and reach other democratic countries to protect their processes in the coming years. Microsoft has identified 2018 as a critical year for governments and tech companies to work together towards making elections more secure. The Defending Democracy Program consist of some steps that include:
- Protecting campaigns from hacks by better account monitoring and increasing response measures to attacks.
- Supporting proposals like the Honest Ads Act to increase online political advertising transparency. In addition, adopting self-regulatory measures across Microsoft platforms.
- Exploring technological solutions to protect and preserve the electoral processes. And also interact with federal, state, and local officials to identify and fix cyber threats.
- Defending against disinformation, propaganda and fake news by partnering with institutions and think tanks who are dedicated to counter such activities.
Microsoft will focus on the U.S. midterm elections of November 2018. They are piloting new cross-industry protections; this will also be done in the 2020 U.S. presidential elections.
Tom Burt, Corporate Vice President, Customer Security & Trust stated: “Expect to hear more from us on what we’re doing, both on our own and in partnership with governments and our industry colleagues, to put our cybersecurity expertise to work for the defense of democracy.”
Visit the Microsoft Blog for more details on AccountGuard and the defending democracy program.