Google and sister company to offer cyber security to election groups

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By Eric Auchard and Toby Sterling | FRANKFURT/AMSTERDAM

FRANKFURT/AMSTERDAM Google and sister company
Jigsaw are joining forces to defend election organisers and
civic groups against cyber attacks free of charge as the broader
tech industry seeks to fend off criticism that it is not doing
enough to stop online efforts to distort elections.

The growing frequency of politically-motivated online
attacks — from the recent hacking of Twitter accounts by
Turkish nationalists to the U.S. Democratic Party’s email breach
— has left governments and pro-democracy groups scrambling for
ways to thwart hackers and the rising tide of “fake” news.

Alphabet Inc subsidiaries Jigsaw and Google are
offering a free Protect Your Election package to low-budget
organisations. The service to ward off website attacks has
already been offered to news organisations for the past year
under what is known as Project Shield.

Last week Jigsaw, which develops security tools for civic
groups, joined up with Google to defend a voter information
website that came under cyber attack during the Dutch national
election.

The KiesKompas and Stemwijzer websites — used by about half
of Dutch voters to see which parties best match their political
views — were knocked out by a deluge of web traffic on March
14, which spilled over into election day.

“The attack was not child’s play: it was very sophisticated
because the attackers kept trying different avenues of attack
again and again,” said KiesKompas director Willem Blanken.

KiesKompas, which rougly translates as ChoiceCompass,
enlisted the help of Jigsaw on the evening of March 14, while
Stemwijzer, or VoteGuide, signed up NBIP, a non-profit group set
up by about 100 Dutch internet and telecoms providers.

The election guide services remained out of action on the
morning of the vote, but both were successfully restored to
service around midday.

FAKE NEWS, EXTREMISM

The rise of Google and tech rival Facebook was
welcomed as a gift to democracy and free speech against
autocratic governments.

More recently, however, there has been a growing backlash
against fake news on social media, which has polarised political
debate, and the failure to stop extremist groups using their
networks to spread propaganda and find new recruits.

Google vowed on Tuesday to police its websites better by
ramping up staff numbers and overhauling its policies after
several companies deserted the internet giant for failing to
keep their adverts off hate-filled videos.

A spokesman for Jigsaw said on Tuesday that it plans to
offer the Protect Your Election suite free to individuals and
organisations involved in forthcoming national votes in France,
South Korea and Germany and subsequent elections as they occur.

Jigsaw is funded by Alphabet and remains autonomous from
Google, though the sister companies work together on
larger-scale projects.

Project Shield defends against so-called Distributed Denial
of Service (DDoS) attacks that have plagued the web since about
2000 and which government and commercial experts say have
intensified over the past year.

Such attacks have targeted not only political parties, but
also election monitors and independent news organisations
in Myanmar (2010), Malaysia (2013), Ecuador (2015), Mexico
(2015-2016), Montenegro (2016) and the Netherlands (2017).

Hundreds of companies compete to protect websites from
intruders, including Clouldflare, Akamai and Imperva
Incapsula. Basic measures are often free and more
robust safeguards can cost hundreds of dollars a month.

However, sustained high-volume attacks at decisive moments
during elections can quickly run up thousands of dollars in
bills — a big stretch for civic groups with minimal funding.

BASELINE PROTECTION

In addition to Project Shield, Jigsaw is offering Password
Alert to ward off attempts to steal Google passwords and
Two-Step Verification for an added layer of protection on web
and mobile accounts as part of its Protect Your Election
toolkit.

News websites, human rights websites and election monitoring
and information websites are eligible to apply for DDoS
protection, the Jigsaw spokesman said.

Candidates and campaigns are eligible for the two-password
protection tools, but not the free DDoS protection. More details
can be found at: g.co/protectyourelection

This starter set of security tools offer baseline protection
but can only go so far in thwarting the dizzying array of
political shenanigans that now play out in cyberspace.

They could do little, for example, to ward off the hijacking
of high-profile Twitter accounts by a Turkish nationalist hacker
group that took place as the Dutch voted last week and attracted
widespread media attention.

These attacks involved hacking into an Amsterdam-based
social media analytics company to post anti-Dutch and
anti-German messages amid a diplomatic spat with
Turkey.

Officials at the Dutch election guides said that web traffic
on their sites appeared to come from various nations but the
identity of the attackers remains a mystery. Several of the
officials denied a De Telegraaf report that Turkey was behind
the attacks.

“There’s just nothing to substantiate that. We simply don’t
know,” KiesKompas director Blanken said.



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