While the 2019 Knesset elections had some unprecedented cyber issues, future elections will have even more, cyber expert and founder and editor-in-chief of Cybertech Magazine Amir Rapaport says. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, Rapaport divided the impact of cyber on the elections into three spheres. He said that Israel’s Central Elections Committee, in coordination with the Israel National Cyber Directorate (INCD) and other agencies (the Shin Bet Israel Security Agency is known to have a heavy role), seem to have succeeded in protecting from actual hacking of physical election systems. To that extent, no one has called into question the voter totals produced by the committee based on accusations of a cyber attack. (There are some minor controversies, but not related to the cyber sphere.) Further, some of the dark scenarios to prevent voters from reaching the polling stations, including the hacking of trains and other public transit, did not transpire.
However, beyond the committee, cyber interference appears to have had an unprecedented impact on the parties and the candidates themselves.
The most noteworthy example was the hacking of the cellphone of Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz.
Although to date no embarrassing information from his cellphone has been published, simply the announcement of the hacking took over the news for several days and put Gantz on the defensive at a time when his standing had been rising.
Rapaport called the hacking of Gantz’s cellphone “very significant” regardless of whether it was carried out by Iran or some other party, and similar to the hacks of Hilary Clinton’s US presidential campaign in 2016.
He noted that Netanyahu capitalized on the issue by spreading fear of what personal information might be used by the hackers to extort Gantz.
Pressed that Gantz still won 35 seats, more than he was projected to win in most polls, Rapaport responded that “the damage still might have been significant” as it is possible Gantz might have won even more seats absent the hack.
Regarding the controversy about whether the Likud Party used a network of bots or accounts labeled as nonpartisan which were really Likud backers to unduly influence the public, he said he did not want to take a specific stance.
Also, he pointed out that using bot social media accounts is not illegal on its own.
Rather, he said that the reports about bots and misleading social media accounts raised ethical issues about what kinds of elections Israeli society wants to see.
Further, he said that whether all of the accounts labeled as bots by a Yediot Aharonot report were bots or real, there was no question that bots had been used by multiple parties during the election.
He said the use of bots was merely the expression of “the new virtual age” that is encroaching on every area of human life, with elections unable to buck the trend.
Rapaport said that the most important question with bots going forward was not trying to prevent their use entirely, but trying to ensure they were used legitimately and not for spreading false information.
He states that Iran and other Israeli adversaries were using cyber attacks against a variety of Israeli targets “all the time” now, and that the country needed to continue to work to combat attempts to manipulate public opinion whether during an election cycle or during more normal periods.