Israel's Cyber Authority Braces for Foreign Involvement in Elections

Plan is not aimed at a specific foe and so far no external attempts have been detected, as far as is known, to disrupt election procedures in the country

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Votes being counted at a polling station by officials following Israel's January 22, 2013 election.
Votes being counted by officials following Israel's January 22, 2013 election.
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The National Cyber Authority is formulating a defense plan against cyberattacks on the Central Election Committee and the parties’ internet sites following recent attempts to meddle with elections in the West. However, the authority will not act against psychological warfare campaigns.

The plan was prompted by the American intelligence community’s accusations against Russia of meddling with the presidential election last November and similar complaints made in European states.

The Israeli plan is not aimed at a specific foe and so far no external attempts have been detected, as far as is known, to disrupt election procedures here.

The cyber authority will coordinate its defense preparations with the Central Election Committee and guide parties and logistics organizations associated with the elections on how to identify and protect themselves from cyber penetrations. The authority, which was set up some 18 months ago, has given similar cyber-defense workshops to numerous other organizations and bodies.

In Israel, votes are counted manually at the election committee’s headquarters. Due to the mounting cyberattacks aimed at meddling with elections, cyber experts will recommend continuing with the existing, outdated method. However, other aspects of the election campaign and preparations for Election Day are also exposed to cyberattacks and need protection.

These include the Central Election Committee’s internet site, the parties’ sites and the organizations that provide technological and logistics services on Election Day.

Cyber experts dealing with the issue told Haaretz this week that Israel is aware of the growing risk that its election campaigns will be disrupted, and that states or foreign organizations would be tempted to this end, following precedents in other countries.

Narrow focus

The authority will not interfere with content associated with the election campaign under any circumstances, nor does it intend to foil psychological warfare campaigns. The authority will focus on thwarting intervention in the election process itself.

On Sunday Haaretz reported that Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot warned last week of possible attempts to interfere and influence Israel’s electoral system with cyber warfare.

Eisenkot, who spoke to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, recommended that the MKs follow attempts to sway elections in the United States and France as well as the cyberattacks aimed against Ukraine’s state infrastructure.

In addition to the need to protect civilian infrastructure like hospitals and power facilities, he said there are some things the army cannot be involved in, but the state act, he said.

MKs who attended the meeting said Eisenkot mentioned cyberattacks aimed at swaying election results but also to affect voters’ consciousness by means of mass manipulation, with posts on social networks and internet sites.

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