Israeli Army Chief Warns Against Hacking of Elections, Without Mentioning Russia

Attempts to interfere with democracy are on the rise while the danger of conventional warfare is in decline, says Gadi Eisenkot

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks at the Herzliya Conference, June 20, 2017.
David Bachar

Israel should be attentive to any attempts at hacking its computer networks that might interfere or influence its democratic system, army chief Gadi Eisenkot told a Knesset panel last week. Such incidents have occurred in recent years in the United States, France and Ukraine, Eisenkot said. Although he did not name any specific actor, all the instances and attempts of hacking he mentioned were attributed to Russia.

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Speaking to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for some three hours on Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff laid out the security situation and outlined the progress the army has made in implementing its multi-year program. He spent a good deal of the time discussing the IDF's preparedness in the realm of cybersecurity.

Eisenkot said that two dangers facing Israel that have been on the rise in recent years are hacking and the sub-conventional threat of terror, guerilla warfare, rockets and tunnels.

He noted that two threats now in decline were conventional military threats and the threat of non-conventional warfare. He attributed the former to the collapse of the Syrian army and the latter to the nuclear accord with Iran, which temporarily suspended the country's nuclear program, as well as and the dismantling of Assad’s chemical weapons caches in Syria. According to the chief of staff, the decline in the magnitude of threats previously considered more dramatic, along with changes in the risks that Israel must confront, have allowed the IDF to invest more resources into developing responses to terror, guerilla warfare and hacking.

Considering instances involving hacking and the U.S. and French elections, and the hacking of national infrastructure in Ukraine, Eisenkot recommended that the lawmakers monitor attempts to influence democracy in Israel. Since the army cannot protect hospitals and electrical facilities, the government should be aware of the threat, he said.

According to lawmakers present at the meeting, Eisenkot mentioned two phenomena: attempts to falsify election results through hacking and attempts at mass manipulation of voters’ opinions through social media and other websites.

Two years ago, Eisenkot had considered establishing a separate cyberwarfare arm in the IDF General Staff, but the plan is now on hold due to the implementation of the multi-year plan. Instead, components of cyber defensive and offensive capabilities were strengthened, while the existing collection of cyberintelligence is to be maintained with the same amount of resources as in the past. The chief of staff has said on other occasions that about 80 percent of the army's resources are invested into defensive capabilities and about 20 percent are directed to offensive capabilities.

Eisenkot told the lawmakers that the threat of a cyberattack on Israel has grown significantly in recent years. Cyberdefense is in the hands of the General Staff’s computer and communication integration branch, whose name was changed this year to include the term cyberdefense. As for defense, the IDF focuses mainly on military systems but also partakes in efforts led by the National Cyber Bureau and the National Cyber Security Authority in protecting government systems.