Israel vulnerable to online threats ahead of vote

‘We see in many instances fake Iranian accounts that… spread divisive and inciting messages, or spread lies’

Days ahead of its general election, Israel is on alert for possible cyberattacks or influence campaigns from foreign rivals, notably Iran, aimed at sowing further tensions within its bitterly divided population.

Election day on Tuesday is a “desirable target for influence campaigns,” Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel’s office said before Israel holds its fifth vote in less than four years, as its era of unprecedented political deadlock grinds on.

The ministry and the National Cyber Directorate have been preparing to combat direct attacks on the voting infrastructure, including hacking efforts targeting the Central Elections Committee’s servers and websites. 

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Concerns are secondary, partly because Israelis vote by paper ballot. More serious are online campaigns aimed at undermining confidence in Israel’s democratic process, officials and experts said. 

“Israel’s elections are as secure as anywhere else,” said Ariel Levin-Waldman, i24NEWS Science and Technology Correspondent. “But here, you don’t hack the system, you hack the people.”

Elections committee chair Isaac Amit warned of efforts to “delegitimize the results,” thereby “harming the democracy… causing schisms and suspicion.”

For Ofir Barel, a researcher at Tel Aviv University, told AFP there is evidence of Iranian efforts “to try to influence Israeli society by spreading lies with political content.”

“We see in many instances fake Iranian accounts that can come in large groups of hundreds and either spread divisive and inciting messages, or spread lies to harm the image of a certain politician,” said Barel, of the university’s Workshop for Science, Technology and Security.

He noted that Israel has grown more vulnerable to such attacks given its entrenched political divisions, with the electorate having returned inconclusive results in four straight elections and much of the nation split between supporters of hawkish ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu and his opponents.

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