Shin Bet chief: Foreign country will try to interfere in elections

Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman warned of the high probability of foreign intervention in the upcoming elections.

January 8, 2019 20:40
HACKERS AND cybersecurity

HACKERS AND cybersecurity. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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A foreign country is trying to use cyber abilities to interfere in Israel’s upcoming elections, Shin Bet director Nadav Argaman has warned.

Hadashot News initially reported on Tuesday night that Argaman had delivered the warning at a conference in Tel Aviv on Monday, but that the censor was blocking the content of his warning.

However, later Tuesday night, the censor removed its ban and it was reported that Argaman said that he does not yet know the political purpose of the foreign country which is trying to interfere with Israeli elections, but that “it is trying to intervene – and I know what I am talking about.”

Zionist Union MK Revital Swid responded to the news by stating that she had been one of the early public officials warning of cyber interference in elections and was concerned that more still needed to be done.

Earlier Tuesday, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira issued a warning that he would be reviewing how well election authorities protect their systems and relevant political parties from hacking or social media manipulation.

Generally, there are two primary threats of cyber interference in an election. One is hacking the actual election infrastructure to alter the vote count, which is rare and difficult to do. The second, which has become more common and which Russia did in the US, is manipulative, sophisticated social media campaigns promoting fake news stories and themes designed to support a favored candidate.

In the US, Russia tried to support US President Donald Trump’s election, though there is no clear evidence that its influence was decisive in his election win.

Last year, IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot warned the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of potential future cyberattack election threats.

In recent interviews with The Jerusalem Post, both ex-Israeli cyber chief Buky Carmeli, and former government agent and Chief Technology Officer Amit Meltzer said that even as Russia and China may be using cyber to collect intelligence in Israel, it is doubtful either would provoke a crisis.

In contrast, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has named Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas in the past as all trying to hack various aspects of the country.

The Central Elections Committee does not fall under the jurisdiction of the National Cybersecurity Authority.

Various Knesset committees have held meetings to discuss cyberattacks and attempts to spread false information in order to influence the elections, the most recent of which was six weeks ago.

Last year, Knesset Science and Technology Committee chairman Uri Maklev (UTJ) warned in one of them: “We think the [Central Elections Committee] cannot defend itself alone. As much as it will try, it cannot reach the level of the Cyber Authority. Something must be done.”

Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg said in response to Argaman’s remarks that: “We demand security forces make sure [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is not stealing the election for his friend, Bibi the dictator.”

Hatenuah Chairman Yoel Hasson, member of the Central Elections Committee, wrote to Justice Meltzer, who is the sole authority in the laws of election propriety, saying, "There must be an urgent discussion in light of the fear of foreign intervention in the elections. I request an urgent discussion in light of media reports about the clear and worrisome statement by Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman that a foreign country is planning to interfere in the elections in the State of Israel."

The Israel Security Agency responded to the report on Tuesday evening and published a statement clarifying that the State of Israel and the intelligence community have the tools and capabilities to locate, monitor and thwart attempts of foreign influence in Israeli elections, if they do exist. They added that the Israeli defense establishment is fully capable of allowing democratic and free elections in the State of Israel.

Lahav Harkov contributed to this story.

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