What you need to know

  • Microsoft will extend Windows 7 security updates beyond its end-of-life date for election systems.
  • The company said today that it will provide further security updates for these systems through the end of 2020.
  • Thie move is meant to safeguard election systems in the U.S. and "other democratic countries."

Microsoft announced today that it will offer extended Windows 7 support for free for election systems in 2020. The move will make sure these systems are protected from major security vulnerabilities beyond Windows 7's January 14 end-of-life date as the U.S. enters an election year.

"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," Microsoft said in a blog post announcing the plan. "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."

Microsoft says the extension, a part of its larger "Defending Democracy Program," will provide free updates to "federally certified voting systems running Windows 7" through the end of 2020. This applies to both the U.S. and "other democratic countries, as defined by the EIU Democracy Index."

Beyond extending security updates, Microsoft plans to provide assistance for election systems that rely on Azure. "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."

As of January 14, 2020, Windows 7 will no longer receive security updates. Enterprises who are using Windows 7 can pay for extended security updates, but Microsoft is urging all users to upgrade to Windows 10. Despite this, a third-party security group announced its intention to provide unofficial micropatches for Windows 7 machines after the end-of-life date.

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