"Many countries want to influence Israel's elections"

Erez Kreiner Photo: Eyal Izhar

Former head of the Israel National Information Security Agency Erez Krainer tells "Globes" about the risk of foreign countries influencing the election results.

"The warning by (Israel Security Agency head) Nadav Argaman is still valid. What he said was probably aimed at specific people in the country, and perhaps also outside it," National Information Security Agency cofounder and former head Erez Kreiner told "Globes."

The National Information Security Agency (NISA) was founded under a cabinet resolution after the National Security Council made the Israel Security Agency (ISA) responsible for cyber defense of national infrastructure during the term of late former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Kreiner will participate in a cybertech conference on January 28-30 in Tel Aviv.

Kreiner has worked in the cyber sector since he left the NISA in 2012. He says that in addition to Russia, there are at least four entities in the region with a motive for influencing the elections: Turkey, Syria, the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas. "Each of them has an interest in the election in order to promote their agenda," he says.

"Globes": What types of attacks are relevant to Israel?

Kreiner: "There are three types of influences. The first is direct influence on the results, for example by influencing voters to go to the polls by manipulating the voters' registry. If you play with the location of the polling station of certain voters, you can cause chaos. You can make things look like they are in order, while actually only 0.5% of the votes will be disqualified, because they won't go to the right polling stations, for example by changing the address. The aim is to work on a small scale - if the scale is larger, there is a risk that the elections will be completely disqualified, but when they play with small percentages, it can be directed so that a specific political party will get slightly fewer votes, and might not pass the electoral threshold

"There is another aspect that is relevant where there is electronic voting: breaking into places where the data are stored and playing with the numbers. The idea was previously raised of electronic elections in Israel, mainly for the local authorities, and I was partly responsible for the Ministry of the Interior giving up the idea.

"The second influence is what has been emphasized recently in the media: the ability to manipulate a large group, in some cases without them being aware of it. The third type is attacking politicians, candidates, party headquarters, and activists. Even if the party has strong protection for its headquarters, important activists are still a target.

"It is possible to turn to unsophisticated solutions. For example, making changes in Ministry of the Interior is difficult. It is much simpler to break into it and destroy it, which is liable to cause postponement of the elections. The Ministry of the Interior was considered critical infrastructure at the time, and was accordingly given a special solution."

On the one hand, a foreign country is involved, in which case the Mossad is responsible for handling it. On the other hand, it is protection of the election system, so maybe the National Cyber Directorate should be responsible. Why did the ISA warn about the danger?

"The role of the security organizations is to help the Central Election Committee. Since I know the ISA people, I can guarantee that no dispute over territory is involved; something is worrying the ISA leadership. The ISA has its own capabilities and the Cyber Directorate has capabilities. The Cyber Directorate is part of the security system. Cyber transcends boundaries.

"Counteraction is the responsibility of the intelligence agencies, but instructing the Ministry of the Interior is the Cyber Directorate's responsibility. That is the law. The Cyber Directorate handled quite a few things well in the past. The ISA continued handling its responsibilities, as did also the Mossad and the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate. The game is about the width of the field. No one has a monopoly on the field. You can't play in just one way. These arguments took place when the Cyber Directorate was first formed, and were solved for spheres of activity. There are always arguments between agencies in the same sector about the boundaries of an area of activity, and there always will be. The trick is to navigate them."

In the current case of protecting the elections, how do you think cooperation between the agencies should work? Who should lead it?

"Who leads in transportation? The minister? Egged? Israel Railways? Cyber is dynamic, and cooperation is based on daily work of coordination in a specific matter. It's hard to predict the boundaries of the sphere of activity for three years in advance. When smart cars came along and there was a cyber threat to them, who was responsible? When we have smart homes, a cyber threat can be blowing up a boiler or a fire. Later, there will be smart clothes and devices that enter the body, such as insulin syringes and subcutaneous pacemakers. All of these systems will be controlled by a computer and will be subject to cyber threats. It's not something horribly demonic; it's something that we'll have to learn to live with, just like we get along with diseases as life expectancy increases.

"In this case, the Central Election Committee is responsible. It has to take the initiative and declare, 'Listen, we're in charge.' I assume that they have already begun, and took good people to help them, and take a broad and deep look at all types of influences."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 13, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

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Erez Kreiner Photo: Eyal Izhar
Erez Kreiner Photo: Eyal Izhar
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