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Microsoft announces new tools to beat election hacking - but they won't be in time for SA

May 07 2019 09:42
Dina Bass, Bloomberg
The logo of  Microsoft is seen in a smartphone.

HONG KONG, CHINA - The logo of Microsoft is seen in a smartphone. (Photo by Alvin Chan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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Microsoft will offer free software tools to protect elections and help voters, monitors and agencies make sure votes are counted properly.

The software company said the tools will make it harder to hack elections in the first place, but if one is, it will be clear that results have been altered or tampered with. Microsoft said the tools will probably be tested in some US elections as soon as this year but will not be able to be widely deployed for the US presidential election in 2020. 

Called ElectionGuard, the tools were developed in partnership with the privately-owned Portland, Oregon-based company Galois and are open source so they can be freely used. Microsoft said it has already partnered with "major" US suppliers of election technology that are interested in building voting products that use ElectionGuard.

Unique trackers for voters

The tools provide encryption to protect election systems and also give each voter a unique tracker that will let them follow their vote to make sure it is counted and has not been altered.

The software will also include instructions that allow anyone – news media, monitors or candidates - to write "verifier" software that checks reported vote tabulations are correct and free from meddling. 

"It will not be possible to 'hack' the vote without detection," said Tom Burt, Microsoft vice president, Customer Security & Trust, in a blog post.

Microsoft is announcing the tools on Monday at its annual Build developer conference in Seattle. 

Defending democracy

About a year ago Microsoft started a programme called Defending Democracy to use its software and its view into vast amounts of email data to protect candidates, government agencies, think-tanks and elections from manipulation like phishing attacks and tampering.

In the past year, the company says it has derailed attacks against US congressional candidates and European organisations, as well as fighting state-linked hackers in court.

Microsoft has been working on the election security tools for 10 months, and is partnering with companies that account for more than half of US voting systems, such as Democracy Live, Election Systems & Software, Hart InterCivic, BPro, MicroVote, and VotingWorks. The early tests of the security tools will be conducted through a partnership with Columbia University. 

The toolkit will be available in June on Microsoft-owned open source code repository GitHub.

Also in June, Microsoft will also offer a new service called Microsoft 365 for Campaigns, made up of the security features it sells to businesses, but at a 75% discount, or $5 per user per month. It will be available initially for political parties and campaigns for US federal offices. 

Find everything you need to know about the 2019 National and Provincial Government Elections at our News24 Elections site, including the latest news and detailed, interactive maps for how South Africa has voted over the past 3 elections. Make sure your News24 app is updated to access all our elections coverage in one place. 

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