18 Sep

A new kind of pilot secure email service called ‘AccountGuard’ has been launched by Microsoft, specifically for use by election candidates, and as one answer to the kind of interference that took place during the last US presidential election campaign.

Ready For The Midterm Elections

The new, free email service (which people must useOffice 365 to register for) is an off-shoot of Microsoft’s ‘Defending Democracy’ Program. This program was launched in April with the aim of protecting campaigns from hacking, through increased cyber resilience measures, enhanced account monitoring and incident response capabilities.

The AccountGuard pilot has been launched in time for the US Midterm elections which are the general elections held in November every four years, around the midpoint of a president’s four-year term of office.

Who Can Use AccountGuard?

Microsoft says that its AccountGuard service can be used by all current candidates for federal, state and local office in the United States and their campaigns; the campaign organisations of all sitting members of Congress, national and state party committees, any technology vendors who primarily serve campaigns and committees, and some non-profit organisations and non-governmental organizations. Microsoft AccountGuard is offered free of charge and is full service, coming with free email and phone support.

Three Core Offerings

AccountGuard has three core offerings. These are:

  1. Unified threat detection and notification across accounts. This means providing notification about any cyber threats in a unified way across both email systems run by organisations and the personal accounts of these organizations’ leaders and staff who opt in. This part of the service will only be available only for Microsoft services including Office 365, Outlook.com and Hotmail to begin with, and Microsoft says it will draw on the expertise of the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC / MSTIC).
  2. Security guidance and ongoing education. Registering for Microsoft AccountGuard gives organisations best practice guidance and materials. These are in the form of off-the-shelf materials and in-depth live sessions.
  3. Early adopter opportunities. This means access to private previews of the kind of security features that are usually offered by Microsoft to large corporate and government account customers.

Similar To Google

Some commentators have highlighted similarities between the AccountGuard idea and Google’s Advanced Protection Program (APP), also launched this year, although APP is open to anyone, requires log in with hardware authentication keys, and locks out third-party app access.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

When you think about it, what Microsoft appears to be admitting is that its everyday email programs are simply not secure enough to counter many of the threats that now look likely to come from other states when elections are underway. Microsoft’s other, non-political business customers who are also at risk from common cyber attacks e.g. phishing, may feel a little left out that they are apparently not being offered the same level of security.

Also, protecting democracy sounds like quite a grand aim for a service provider offering an email service. Microsoft does, however, accept that it can’t solve the threat to US democracy on its own and that it believes this will require technology companies, government, civil society, the academic community and researchers working together. Microsoft also acknowledges that AccountGuard is limited to protecting those using enterprise and consumer services, and that attacks can actually reach campaigns through a variety of other ways. Microsoft also appears to be hinting that it may be thinking of expanding AccountGuard to industry as well as government depending on how the pilot works.