Microsoft is making its AccountGuard programme available to New Zealand’s political parties and eligible NGOs ahead of the general election in September.
AccountGuard is a free service to customers engaged in electoral processes, providing unified threat detection across personal and campaign accounts in addition to guidance to strengthen their cybersecurity practices.
The programme offers best practices and security guidance specific to those in the political space. This includes access to cybersecurity education and notification in the event of a verifiable threat or compromise by a known nation-state actor against a participant’s Office 365, Outlook or Hotmail account and help with remediation.
Participants also receive a direct line to Microsoft’s Defending Democracy Program team.
AccountGuard was first deployed in the United States in 2018 and later expanded to Canada, India, Australia and 22 European countries ahead of the EU elections last year.
Last year, Microsoft took legal action against and technically disrupted the operations of advanced persistent threats (APTs) from Iran (Phosphorus), North Korea (Thallium), China (Barium) or Russia (Strontium).
"These groups have run sophisticated cyber campaigns, aiming to gain access to sensitive information that had the potential to allow them to influence real-world political processes in the US and Europe," Maciej Surowiec, Microsoft's NZ government affairs lead, wrote in a blog post.
"Such APTs don’t only target government officials or candidates – they also attempt to exploit think-tanks that contribute with their research to the electoral processes."
NGOs conducting such political analysis or education will also have free access to AccountGuard.
Surowiec said that threats to democracy don’t exclusively come from weak state institutions or leaders who abuse power.
The robustness of electoral processes and their digital resilience to manipulation by malicious cyber actors, both domestic and foreign, are becoming very important areas of focus.