With primary elections underway in many states, and politicians on both sides of the aisle gearing up for the general election season, campaigns and voters alike have some questions regarding the safety and security of those running for office.
Cyberspace has become a place in which very few are still trustworthy of security measures on social media, sharing personal information about themselves, and even answering simple polls about those they support or oppose in elections.
If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that we have be more careful with technology when it begins to cross wires with our democratic process. Now that midterms are upon us, there has been growing anxiety about possible cyberattacks that could impact voting.
Jigsaw to the rescue
Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has announced it will be using its experimental incubator Jigsaw to offer free protection from distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks to US political campaigns.
In DDoS attacks, servers can be overloaded with “junk traffic” to block access to sites and information for actual users and audiences. Jigsaw’s Project Shield has focused on fighting DDoS where it might be used for censorship around the world for the past two years or so.
Jigsaw recently joined forces with GLAAD to help create a safer space online for the LGBTQ+ community. The incubator has also used its AI platform offer free protection to journalists, human rights organizations, election board sites, and small publications. Now it’s extending its services to those running for public office.
“We’ve been doing Shield for a little over two years now, and we keep seeing this correlation where you see spikes in attacks particularly at organizations that have really important information around things like elections or conflict in the world,” says George Conard, the Project Shield product manager at Jigsaw. “In working on protecting news and elections information we’ve realized that the third piece of that equation of what information voters need during an election is from the candidates and the campaigns themselves.”
The service currently protects around 80 entities all over the world, and most notably took over security for journalist Brian Krebs’ website “Krebs on Security” after it was hit by a massive DDoS attack in September 2016.
How Jigsaw protects sites from attacks
Project Shield acts as what’s called a “reverse proxy” to offer DDoS defense to sites. Instead of coming through the normal traffic server, visitors to the site are redirected to another intermediary route that allows the platform to scan them for any malicious activity. If it senses any possible threats, the system deletes the traffic automatically before it gains any level of access to the site. Even if a proxy is caught off guard at first and initially accepts junk traffic from an attacker, it can be quickly modified to start filtering the bulk requests out, limiting disruption.
Project Shield was built on Google Cloud Platform, and also offers caching through Google. This allows the tool to store the parts of a website that don’t change often and serves those components directly to users without any requests even going to a site’s actual servers, reducing bandwidth demands even more to make it easier for a site to handle its daily processing and traffic load.
By offering its services to electoral commissions around the globe, Project Shield researchers have seen the disruption that DDoS attacks on election-related sites can cause. If a site for a candidate, committee, or campaign goes down on election day, it can keep voters from vital information about who to vote for and where to cast their ballots. A DDoS attack could also be fatal for any grassroots campaign trying to gain momentum during campaign season.
“Our focus right now is making sure we get the word out to as many political organizations as we can that the threat is out there,” Conard says. “I would anticipate that we’ll see some spikes as different primaries crop up, so we’ll help anyone at any time, but the sooner people get protected the better. This isn’t something to wait until the last minute to do.”