Today, as part of Microsoft’s Defending Democracy Program, we are announcing that we will provide free security updates for federally certified voting systems running Windows 7 through the 2020 elections, even after Microsoft ends Windows 7 support. I would like to share more on why we help customers move away from older operating systems and why we’re making this unusual exception.
We launched Windows 7 in 2009, the same year the Palm Pre launched, Twitter took off, mobile phone navigation was just coming to market, and floppy disks were still selling by the millions. Software built for that era cannot provide the same level of security as a modern operating system like Windows 10. When we released Windows 7, we committed to supporting it for 10 years, and we’ve honored that commitment. We’ve also reminded customers about this along the way including, most recently, in January and again in March. This process is similar to how we’ve ended support for other operating systems in the past, and the majority of our customers have already made the move to Windows 10.
As we head into the 2020 elections, we know there is a relatively small but still significant number of certified voting machines in operation running on Windows 7. We also know that transitioning to machines running newer operating systems in time for the 2020 election may not be possible for a number of reasons, including the lengthy voting machine certification process – a process we are working with government officials to update and make more agile.
Since we announced our Defending Democracy Program, we’ve focused on bringing the best of Microsoft’s security products and expertise to political campaigns, parties, the election community and democracy-focused nongovernmental organizations. This includes our AccountGuard service, which we offer at no additional cost, and ElectionGuard, which we’re making available for free and open source.
As a next step in protecting the 2020 elections, the Defending Democracy Program will make extended security updates available for free to federally certified voting systems running Windows 7. We will do this through the end of 2020, both in the United States and in other democratic countries, as defined by the EIU Democracy Index, that have national elections in 2020 and express interest. We are also working with major manufacturers that have sold voting machines running Windows 7 to ensure any security updates provided to these systems are successful.
We are also announcing today that, as part of the Defending Democracy Program, we are proactively identifying and engaging election authorities that are Microsoft Azure customers to provide guidance and technical assistance in using the most advanced security features in Azure. We provided this service ahead of the 2018 election cycle and will again ahead of the 2020 cycle.
If you are a government official overseeing 2020 elections and have questions about security updates for voting machines running Windows 7, or if you are an election official running elections-relevant workloads on Azure and would like help, please contact the Defending Democracy Team at Protect2020@microsoft.com.
We also encourage election authorities to upgrade Windows devices used to run their standard business operations to Windows 10. These PCs are not subject to the certification requirements that are a major barrier to upgrading voting machines. We offer Fast Track guidance to help election authorities upgrade these PCs to Windows 10, as well as other options.