Microsoft said Friday it will offer state and local election officials free security support for Windows 7 operating systems used in voting systems through 2020.
“We want to make sure that Windows 7 end-of-life doesn’t…become a barrier to having a secure and safe election,” Jan Neutze, head of Microsoft’s cybersecurity and democracy team, said in announcing the news, which CyberScoop was first to report. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said at a conference hosted by the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
Microsoft has long planned to stop providing security updates for Windows 7 users in general in January 2020, but was allowing users to pay for those updates through January 2023. But the offer of free services through next year’s U.S. presidential election is an additional effort to make it easier to update operating software used in voting systems, such as the election management systems that format ballots.
Some systems that support voting in the U.S. still rely on Windows 7, which is not nearly as straightforward to update on those machines as it is on a personal computer. Patches require installation and testing to verify that they will not disrupt a voting system.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission has said it will not de-certify certain voting systems that use Windows 7, highlighting the challenge of keeping voting equipment running on up-to-date systems. In the meantime, voting systems with Windows 10, the latest Windows system, are gradually becoming available.
Tom Burt, a corporate vice president at Microsoft, said that the free security updates for Windows 7 would be available for other countries aside from the United States that will be holding national elections in 2020.
The move is the latest step by Microsoft and other powerful tech companies to offer free or discounted services in support of election security following the sweeping effort by the Russian government to intervene in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.