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Google, Jigsaw seek to stop election hacks

While the US government investigates how Russians hacked the 2016 presidential race, Alphabet's Jigsaw and Google want to make sure it won't happen again.

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Google and Jigsaw are offering free tools to protect elections.

Drew Angerer, Getty Images

Elections worldwide need stronger cybersecurity, and Google says it has a solution.

Jigsaw, a tech incubator owned by Google parent company Alphabet, is working with Google to try to protect elections. Together, they are offering a free tool designed to prevent distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and a free extension created to stop phishing attacks.

DDoS attacks have shut down websites for election monitoring groups in Mexico, France and South Korea. Last year's US presidential campaign serves as the most visible example of hackers seeking to influence an election.

The FBI, CIA and National Security Agency have determined that Russian hackers interfered with the US election through multiple cyberattacks, including leaking emails from the Democratic National Committee, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager, John Podesta. The intelligence community has said that Russian wanted to undermine US democracy and influence the election's outcome.

The hacks have raised concerns that elections worldwide are now in danger of foreign interference through the internet. FBI Director James Comey warned this week that Russian hackers will return in future US elections and could attack again as soon as 2018.

Google's free tools, for example, might have prevented Podesta from the spear-phishing attack detailed by the intelligence community. An email that pretended to be from Google prompted Podesta to change his password, allegedly tricking the campaign manager into giving away his password to hackers.

The search engine giant is providing a Chrome extension called Password Alert, which tells Google users if and when they enter their account password on a webpage that does not belong to Google.

Jigsaw and Google are also focused on keeping vital information online because multiple websites and journalists have suffered DDoS attacks during elections. Hours before the election in the Netherlands last week, one of Holland's leading election information sites was hit and taken offline. Jigsaw and Google want to make sure it won't happen again, starting with France's election in April.

They are offering Project Shield to election monitors, news publications and human rights groups for free. The tool can protect users from DDoS attacks crippling their sites. The tool was able to fend off a massive DDoS attack last year on the website of cybersecurity journalist Brian Krebs.

The Dutch election site is now protected by Project Shield, and Jigsaw and Google hope that companies around the world will take up their offer of protection.

"About 125,000 DDoS attacks happen every week and tens of millions of phishing attempts are recorded every few months," Jigsaw said in an emailed statement.

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