2018 Pennsylvania Primary Election
Photo: Mark Makela (Getty Images)

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is opening up its free denial-of-service protection program to political groups in the United States, a move that will help political campaigns defend themselves against online attacks during the upcoming election season.

The program is known as Project Shield, and it’s run by Jigsaw, a group within Alphabet that focuses on developing cybersecurity solutions for geopolitical issues. Project Shield has been available to journalists, human rights groups, and election boards for several years. But given the increased fears in the U.S. about attacks on election systems, and with the midterm elections fast approaching, Project Shield is expanding to cover candidates, campaigns, and political action committees.

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DDoS attacks work by flooding a website with junk traffic, knocking it offline and rendering it inaccessible to legitimate visitors. Project Shield defends against these kinds of attacks by using Google’s vast infrastructure to filter out that junk traffic, passing only the legitimate visitors on to the candidate’s website.

“Digital attacks against democratic institutions have grown in frequency and intensity in the United States and globally. By simply overwhelming computer systems and servers with targeted flood traffic, DDoS attacks are being used to silence political speech and voters’ access to the information they need. Political parties, campaigns, and organizations are a growing target,” Dan Keyserling, a spokesperson for Jigsaw, wrote in a blog post. “These organizations are critical parts of the democratic process, and they deserve the same defenses against cyber attacks that we’ve offered to news organizations around the world.”

The expansion of Project Shield comes in the wake of a warning from the Department of Homeland Security that Russian hackers targeted election systems in 21 states leading up to the 2016 presidential election, and efforts in Congress to improve the security of those systems.

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Offering Project Shield to U.S. political organizations is also part of Google’s larger Protect Your Election initiative, which offers campaigns enhanced account security and comment moderation tools.