During the past year, we saw nearly 2 billion global citizens go to the polls to vote in democratic elections. There were major elections in more than 50 countries, including India, Nigeria, and the United Kingdom, as well as elections for the European Parliament. In 2020, we will see a similar number of elections in countries from Peru to Myanmar. In November, U.S citizens will cast their votes for the 46th President, 435 seats in the U.S House of Representatives, 35 of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate, and many state and local elections.

Recognizing the importance of maintaining public access to election information, Cloudflare launched the Athenian Project in 2017, providing U.S. state and local government entities with the tools needed to secure their election websites for free. As we’ve seen, however, political parties and candidates for office all over the world are also frequent targets for cyberattack. Cybersecurity needs for campaign websites and internal tools are at an all time high.

Although Cloudflare has helped improve the security and performance of political parties and candidates for office all over the world for years, we’ve long felt that we could do more. So today, we’re announcing Cloudflare for Campaigns, a suite of Cloudflare services tailored to campaign needs. Cloudflare for Campaigns is designed to make it easier for all political campaigns and parties, especially those with small teams and limited resources, to get access to cybersecurity services.

Risks faced by political campaigns

Since Russians attempted to use cyberattacks to interfere in the U.S. Presidential election in 2016, the news has been filled with reports of cyber threats against political campaigns, in both the United States and around the world. Hackers targeted the Presidential campaigns of Emmanuel Macron in France and Angela Merkel in Germany with phishing attacks, the main political parties in the UK with DDoS attacks, and congressional campaigns in California with a combination of malware, DDoS attacks and brute force login attempts.

Both because of our services to state and local government election websites through the Athenian Project and because a significant number of political parties and candidates for office use our services, Cloudflare has seen many attacks on election infrastructure and political campaigns firsthand.

During the 2020 U.S. election cycle, Cloudflare has provided services to 18 major presidential campaigns, as well as a range of congressional campaigns. On a typical day, Cloudflare blocks 400,000 attacks against political campaigns, and, on a busy day, Cloudflare blocks more than 40 million attacks against campaigns.

What is Cloudflare for Campaigns?

Cloudflare for Campaigns is a suite of Cloudflare products focused on the needs of political campaigns, particularly smaller campaigns that don’t have the resources to bring significant cybersecurity resources in house. To ensure the security of a campaign website, the Cloudflare for Campaigns package includes Business-level service, as well as security tools particularly helpful for political campaigns websites, such as the web application firewall, rate limiting, load balancing, Enterprise level “I am Under Attack Support”, bot management, and multi-user account enablement.

To ensure the security of internal campaign teams, the Cloudflare for Campaigns service will also provide tools for campaigns to ensure the security of their internal teams with Cloudflare Access, allowing for campaigns to secure, authenticate, and monitor user access to any domain, application, or path on Cloudflare, without using a VPN. Along with Access, we will be providing Cloudflare Gateway with DNS-based filtering at multiple locations to protect campaign staff as they navigate the Internet by keeping malicious content off the campaign’s network using DNS filtering, helping prevent users from running into phishing scams or malware sites. Campaigns can use Gateway after the product’s public release.

Cloudflare for Campaigns also includes Cloudflare reliability and security guide, which lists a best practice guide for political campaigns to maintain their campaign site and secure their internal teams.

Regulatory Challenges

Although there is widespread agreement that campaigns and political parties face threats of cyberattack, there is less consensus on how best to get political campaigns the help they need.  Many political campaigns and political parties operate under resource constraints, without the technological capability and financial resources to dedicate to cybersecurity. At the same time, campaigns around the world are the subject of a variety of different regulations intended to prevent corruption of democratic processes. As a practical matter, that means that, although campaigns may not have the resources needed to access cybersecurity services, donation of cybersecurity services to campaigns may not always be allowed.

In the U.S., campaign finance regulations prohibit corporations from providing any contributions of either money or services to federal candidates or political party organizations. These rules prevent companies from offering free or discounted services if those services are not provided on the same terms and conditions to similarly situated members of the general public. The Federal Elections Commission (FEC), which enforces U.S. campaign finance laws, has struggled with the issue of how best to apply those rules to the provision of free or discounted cybersecurity services to campaigns. In consideration of a number of advisory opinions, they have publicly wrestled with the competing priorities of securing campaigns from cyberattack while not opening a backdoor to donation of goods services that are intended to curry favors with particular candidates.

The FEC has issued two advisory opinions to tech companies seeking to provide free or discounted cybersecurity services to campaigns. In 2018, the FEC approved a request by Microsoft to offer a package of enhanced online account security protections for “election-sensitive” users. The FEC reasoned that Microsoft was offering the services to its paid users “based on commercial rather than political considerations, in the ordinary course of its business and not merely for promotional consideration or to generate goodwill.” In July 2019, the FEC approved a request by a cybersecurity company to provide low-cost anti-phishing services to campaigns because those services would be provided in the ordinary course of business and on the same terms and conditions as offered to similarly situated non-political clients.

In September 2018, a month after Microsoft submitted its request, Defending Digital Campaigns (DDC), a nonprofit established with the mission to “secure our democratic campaign process by providing eligible campaigns and political parties, committees, and related organizations with knowledge, training, and resources to defend themselves from cyber threats,” submitted a request to the FEC to offer free or reduced-cost cybersecurity services, including from technology corporations, to federal candidates and parties. Over the following months, the FEC issued and requested comment on multiple draft opinions on whether the donation was permissible and, if so, on what basis. As described by the FEC, to support its position, DDC represented that “federal candidates and parties are singularly ill-equipped to counteract these threats.” The FEC’s advisory opinion to DDC noted:

“You [DDC] state that presidential campaign committees and national party committees require expert guidance on cybersecurity and you contend that the 'vast majority of campaigns' cannot afford full-time cybersecurity staff and that 'even basic cybersecurity consulting software and services' can overextend the budgets of most congressional campaigns. AOR004. For instance, you note that a congressional candidate in California reported a breach to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in March of this year but did not have the resources to hire a professional cybersecurity firm to investigate the attack, or to replace infected computers. AOR003.”

In May 2019, the FEC approved DDC’s request to partner with technology companies to provide free and discounted cybersecurity services “[u]nder the unusual and exigent circumstances” presented by the request and “in light of the demonstrated, currently enhanced threat of foreign cyberattacks against party and candidate committees.”

All of these opinions demonstrate the FEC’s desire to allow campaigns to access affordable cybersecurity services because of the heightened threat of cyberattack, while still being cautious to ensure that those services are offered transparently and consistent with the goals of campaign finance laws.

Partnering with DDC to Provide Free Services to US Candidates

We share the view of both DDC and the FEC that political campaigns -- which are central to our democracy -- must have the tools to protect themselves against foreign cyberattack. Cloudflare is therefore excited to announce a new partnership with DDC to provide Cloudflare for Campaigns for free to candidates and parties that meet DDC’s criteria.

To receive free services under DDC, political campaigns must meet the following criteria, as the DDC laid out to the FEC:

  • A House candidate’s committee that has at least $50,000 in receipts for the current election cycle, and a Senate candidate’s committee that has at least $100,000 in receipts for the current election cycle;
  • A House or Senate candidate’s committee for candidates who have qualified for the general election ballot in their respective elections; or
  • Any presidential candidate’s committee whose candidate is polling above five percent in national polls.

For more information on eligibility for these services under DDC and the next steps, please visit cloudflare.com/campaigns/usa.

Election package

Although political campaigns are regulated differently all around the world, Cloudflare believes that the integrity of all political campaigns should be protected against powerful adversaries. With this in mind, Cloudflare will therefore also be offering Cloudflare for Campaigns as a paid service, designed to help campaigns all around the world as we attempt to address regulatory hurdles. For more information on how to sign up for the Cloudflare election package, please visit cloudflare.com/campaigns.