Cloudflare offers free web protection for political campaigns

It's working through a nonprofit approved by the Federal Election Commission.

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Laura Hautala
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Political campaigns need to be secured from hackers, says Cloudflare.

Julia Rendleman for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Political campaigns are prime targets for hackers, but most of them don't have the kind of cybersecurity protection they need. To help fix this problem, Cloudflare announced Wednesday it will offer free web protection for candidates of any party that meet certain thresholds.

The company counts nine presidential candidates as clients, but the "Cloudflare for Campaigns" service is also focused on smaller campaigns that are unlikely to use valuable resources on cybersecurity. House candidates with donation receipts of at least $50,000 and Senate candidates with a minimum of $100,000 in donations are eligible for the service. Any federal candidate in a general election for Congress is also eligible.

"We want to make sure you've got the protection to be able to compete, and for our democracy to actually work," Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince said.

The service is possible because of a decision in May from the Federal Election Commission that allows a nonprofit called Defending Digital Campaigns to offer free or discounted cybersecurity services to political campaigns. Normally, it's illegal for campaigns to accept "in-kind" donations with monetary value. The Defending Digital Campaigns sought special permission to connect campaigns with services like Cloudflare's because of the heightened threat of hacking, as evidenced by attacks on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign staff in 2016.

As part of the FEC's ruling, the Defending Digital Campaigns will publish on its website which campaigns receive free services and how much the services are worth. Because the program is the first of its kind, the nonprofit wants to serve as a sort of pilot program for how free services can secure campaigns in the future.

"We have a great responsibility to show how this can be done," said Michael Kaiser, president and CEO of the Defending Digital Campaigns. "It requires transparency, because it's basically a contribution to a campaign." The nonprofit is also offering campaigns services from mobile security company Lookout, anti-phishing company Area 1 and encrypted messaging service Wickr, among others.

Cloudflare is offering its web protection services, which aim to detect and prevent attacks that try to overload websites with a huge amount of requests in an effort to take them offline. The services also help sites stay online when a surge of legitimate traffic hits a webpage. What's more, the company is offering a set number of seats on its Cloudflare for Teams service, which has products that let an organization's members access digital resources from a variety of devices and locations while keeping out hackers.

That's a more challenging prospect in an era when people use a mixture of work and personal devices to communicate and access important documents stored on the cloud. Campaigns aren't exempt from the risks facing this approach, Prince said, which is why Cloudflare is offering this service, too.

Through its Athenian Project, Cloudflare is also helping secure another crucial aspect of elections: state and local elections agencies, Prince said.

"It's part of our civic duty to be providing these services," Prince said, "and we're glad we found a way to do it while not violating federal election rules."

Watch this: Here's why global election hacking is on the rise