Microsoft Expands Protection of NZ Electoral Process as Sophisticated Attacks on US Elections Detected

 |   Maciej Surowiec


New Zealanders will cast their votes in the General Election in exactly one month, on October 17th.

This election will determine who navigates the country through the remainder of the pandemic, the post-pandemic economic recovery, and chairing the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) throughout 2021. Given the importance of this election, Microsoft’s Defending Democracy Program is expanding its offerings to better protect election integrity and improve cyber resilience in New Zealand.

Today, we are extending Microsoft 365 for Campaigns to cover political campaigns in this year’s election as well as extending other key programs to enhance election security for the benefit of Aotearoa.

Electoral processes face unprecedented threats to their integrity. Digital technology is the backbone of today’s economy and society – and even though in New Zealand and many other countries the act of voting is still conducted with paper ballots, many of the processes surrounding both the conduct of the election and of campaigning occur digitally. In this context, Microsoft revealed just last week that sophisticated actors originating from Iran, Russia and China have attempted to compromise major political campaigns and committees in the US Presidential Election.

Director-General of NZ Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), Andrew Hampton, was recently asked at a rare public speech at Victoria University in Wellington why such actors would care to target New Zealand elections, considering the country’s remoteness and small size. Mr. Hampton explained that one reason why New Zealand may be targeted is because of its strong democratic foundations – some of the malicious parties may want to compromise integrity of New Zealand’s electoral process to undermine faith in the democracy itself. Therefore, the cyber resilience of New Zealand’s electoral process is as important to the people of Aotearoa as much as it is for the international democratic community.

Microsoft has a vested interest in the success of digital transformation in Aotearoa. As we announced yesterday, Microsoft has been granted New Zealand Government’s approval to proceed with its investment to open a new cloud region in the country. As a company present here for nearly two decades, we’re committed to the security and economic vibrancy of the nation. And we believe that also necessitates playing a role in protecting the country’s democracy.

In February, we announced initiatives focused on protecting individual accounts with Microsoft’s threat intelligence as well as training people involved in the campaigns on cybersecurity best practices. Today, we are expanding on these offerings.

After previous successful rollouts in the US and Canada, we will offer all registered New Zealand  political parties and candidates the same industry-leading advanced security capabilities at the same significant discount that we give to non-profits and NGOs.

M365 for Campaigns offers trusted business productivity and collaboration tools, such as Exchange Online for Email, SharePoint and OneDrive for file sharing, Teams for the latest in collaboration, and Office applications including Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and more. It allows users to protect email and work files in the cloud and on all of their devices with enterprise-grade security that is simple to manage, including quick application of extra protections for user accounts and identity.

Campaigns are fast-paced complex environments that don’t often have the same resources as large enterprises. We’d like to make sure that if any of them chooses to trust Microsoft’s products to protect them, cost-saving does not push them in the direction of insecure alternatives.

  • We are extending our High Priority event designation to identified NZ election-related workloads hosted on Microsoft Azure.

As a cloud supplier of choice to many New Zealand Government entities, it’s critical that we do our part to keep election-related work safe and secure. We’re, therefore, extending the same High Priority monitoring and added resources that we normally reserve for events like the Olympics.

  • We’re deploying hotline communications channel that will be available to key entities managing security of NZ electoral process.

Our partners in the elections space need to know they can count on us in the event of a critical situation or emergency. Whether they’d have a tech question, needed threat intelligence, or required assistance in case if an incident, they’ll have a direct access route to an elections-focused team at Microsoft.

At Microsoft, we fundamentally believe that in the digital era, cyber resilience is a key to preserving trust in democracy. We hope these additional commitments will strengthen overall preparedness of Aotearoa for its October General Election.

Maciej Surowiec, Government Affairs Lead New Zealand, Corporate, External & Legal Affairs (CELA)

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