After Tennessee voters went to the polls in primary elections this month, a massive surge of traffic hit a Know County website as it reported the results, knocking it offline for over an hour. In the wake of the incident, a cyber-security experts reported that “a suspiciously large number of foreign countries” accessed the site, which caused it to crash.
These sort of cyber shenanigans, known as a “distributed denial of service” (DDoS) attacks, are cheap and easy to arrange, and have the potential to be widespread during November elections in the U.S.
That’s why Jigsaw, the policy wing of Google’s parent company Alphabet , has decided to offer free DDoS protection to any U.S. political organization or candidate. The protection comes in the form of a service called Project Shield, which Jigsaw has already been offering to journalists, human rights workers and election organizers in other countries.
Project Shield is based on the same technology that uses to defend its websites from cyber attacks, and works by deflecting malicious web traffic.
“The power of Project Shield s being able to take Google's infrastructure and adapt it to small and medium sites,” said George Conard, the project manager of the service, told Fortune.
Conard noted that DDoS attacks are proliferating, and they’ve become cheaper and more powerful. This is partly due to the growing number of insecure devices connected to the Internet, which hackers are able to capture and deploy in criminal operations.
While DDoS attacks don’t steal data, they could nonetheless cause considerable mischief in upcoming elections by taking down the websites of political candidates, or crippling voter information sites at critical times. It’s also likely, given the incident in Tennessee, that Russia--which famously deployed a variety of hacking efforts during the last election--will reprise these tactics during the 2018 midterms.
Jigsaw’s Conard says setting up the service is quick and easy. Any registered political candidate or organization can fill out a short application, and then provide information about the websites where they publish information.
The service is free, and Jigsaw is urging political organizations large and small to implement the protections before election season is in full-swing. While it’s possible to deploy Jigsaw’s tools while a website is under attack, an organization will have an easier time if they are deployed in the first place.
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