Middle East and North Africa

Articles about voting issues in the Middle East and North Africa.

Iran: U.S. must increase defenses against Iranian information operations, report says | Sean Lyngaas/CyberScoop

As social media platforms battle Iranian bots and trolls, the U.S. government needs to step up its own fight against Tehran’s digital influence operations, a new study says. With the 2020 election approaching, Washington should do more to attribute Iranian and other foreign influence operations and warn the public about them, scholars at the Atlantic Council think tank argue. “Iran has invested significant resources and accumulated vast experience in the conduct of digital influence efforts,” the report says. It calls on the Department of Homeland Security to create an intergovernmental agency to alert U.S. officials and the public of foreign influence operations. U.S. intelligence agencies need to work closely with social media companies to pinpoint foreign influence operations, Atlantic Council scholars Emerson Brooking and Suzanne Kianpour’s advise. That collaboration is a work in progress.

Full Article: U.S. must increase defenses against Iranian information operations, report says.

Israel: Benjamin Netanyahu’s election app potentially exposed data for every Israeli voter | Steve Hendrix /The Washington Post

An election app in use by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political party potentially exposed sensitive personal information for the country’s entire national voting registration of about 6.5 million citizens, according to Israeli media reports. The cellphone-based program, identified as the Elector app, is meant to manage the Likud party’s voter outreach and tracking for the country’s March 2 election, according to the Haaretz newspaper. But an independent programmer reportedly spotted a breach over the weekend that potentially exposed the names, addresses, ID numbers and other private data for every registered voter in the country. There was no immediate indication that any of the information had been downloaded before the breach was repaired, the paper said. The app’s developer told Haaretz that the flaw was quickly fixed and that new security measures were implemented. But a person close to Likud, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said the party was braced for the possibility that information could have leaked, with worrying consequences. The comprehensive list of voters would have included personal details, including home addresses, for military leaders, security officials, government operatives and others of potential interest to Israel’s enemies.

Full Article: Benjamin Netanyahu’s election app potentially exposed data for every Israeli voter - The Washington Post.

Israel: Data of All 6.5 Million Voters Leaked | Daniel Victor, Sheera Frenkel and Isabel Kershner/The New York Times

A software flaw exposed the personal data of every eligible voter in Israel — including full names, addresses and identity card numbers for 6.5 million people — raising concerns about identity theft and electoral manipulation, three weeks before the country’s national election. The security lapse was tied to a mobile app used by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party to communicate with voters, offering news and information about the March 2 election. Until it was fixed, the flaw made it possible, without advanced technical skills, to view and download the government’s entire voter registry, though it was unclear how many people did so. How the breach occurred remains uncertain, but Israel’s Privacy Protection Authority, a unit of the Justice Ministry, said it was looking into the matter — though it stopped short of announcing a full-fledged investigation. The app’s maker, in a statement, played down the potential consequences, describing the leak as a “one-off incident that was immediately dealt with” and saying it had since bolstered the site’s security. The flaw, first reported on Sunday by the newspaper Haaretz, was the latest in a long string of large-scale software failures and data breaches that demonstrated the inability of governments and corporations around the world to safeguard people’s private information, protect vital systems against cyberattacks and ensure the integrity of electoral systems.

Full Article: Israeli Voters: Data of All 6.5 Million Voters Leaked - The New York Times.

UAE: E-voting technology adopted by UAE a pioneering experiment in the region | Samir Salama/Gulf News

By adopting an election protection system, the National Election Committee reiterates its commitment to hold an election that is characterised by the highest degree of fairness and transparency by implementing the best internationally recognised practices used in the world’s most successful parliaments, said Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Minister of State for Federal National Council Affairs and Chairman of the National Election Committee. Dr Gargash said on the eve of the early voting that starts today at nine polling stations across the country, the highly accurate e-voting technology adopted by the NEC is a pioneering experiment in the region, which the UAE introduced during the first Federal National Council Elections in 2006.

Full Article: E-voting technology adopted by UAE a pioneering experiment in the region | Government – Gulf News.

Afghanistan: Election Commission confirms cyberattacks on its main server | MENAFN

A member of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) has said that the cyber-security of IEC’s data center has been enhanced in order to counter any threat of cyber-attacks. Mohammad Hanif Danishyar, a member of the IEC told Ariana News that two German experts from Dermalog, a German company, have arrived in Kabul to resolve the problem of low data transferring from biometric devices to main server. He also confirmed cyber-attacks on IEC main server. ‘Our server is the main thing in elections. We have taken special measures to avoid any possible threats. Even there was such attempts but experts have arrived. We want to make sure that the security of our server is not decreasing again,’ Mr. Danishyar said. In addition, officials said that around 23,000 result sheets and a complete data of voters from 5,000 biometric devices have been transferred to the IEC main server in Kabul.

Full Article: Afghanistan- IEC confirms cyberattacks on its main server | MENAFN.COM.

Israel: Preventing electoral interference – the next frontier for the National Cyber Directorate? | Tamir Libel/Jerusalem Post

In recent years, the threat of foreign interference in elections by governmental and non-governmental actors alike became prominent in public discourse due to the alleged actions taken by Russians and others in various Western election campaigns, such as the 2016 US presidential elections. Such interferences, or “influence operations,” are not limited to the formal election period itself; they are often preceded by the lengthy establishment of large networks for message dissemination and resonance. Even in cases where the interference operation was either unsuccessful or did not take place at all, the mere possibility of such influence becomes a polarizing point in and of itself. The threat of electoral interference should therefore be avoided, especially in contested societies like Israel, necessitating the appointment of a national authority tasked with the observation, disruption and prevention of influence operations.

Full Article: Preventing electoral interference – the next frontier for the National Cyber Directorate? - Opinion - Jerusalem Post.

Iran: Cyberattack on US Presidential Campaign Could Be a Sign of Things to Come | Jai Vijayan/Dark Reading

A recently detected Iranian cyberattack targeting a US presidential campaign may well be a harbinger of what’s in store for political parties and election systems in the run-up to next year’s general elections. Last Friday Microsoft disclosed it had observed significant threat activity over the past two months by Phosphorus, a threat group believed linked to the Iranian government. Phosphorus, which is also known as APT25 and Charming Kitten, made over 2,700 attempts to break into specific email accounts belonging to Microsoft customers. In many cases, Phosphorus used information about the targets — including phone numbers and secondary email addresses — to try and infiltrate their email accounts. In the end, Phosphorus attacked 241 targeted email accounts and eventually managed to compromise four of them. In a blog Friday, Microsoft corporate vice president Tom Burt described the targeted accounts as being associated with a US presidential campaign, current and former US government officials, journalists covering politics, and Iranian nationals residing outside the country. The four accounts that were actually breached, however, were not connected to the presidential campaign or to the government officials.

Full Article: Iranian Cyberattack on US Presidential Campaign ....

Afghanistan: Biometric machines in Afghan vote improve after last year’s glitches | Rod Nikel/Reuters

Biometric machines aimed at preventing fraud in Afghanistan’s presidential election performed better than in a poll last year but still left voters waiting a long time to cast their ballots, election observers said on Saturday. The machines were used for the first time in the October parliamentary poll, when many malfunctioned or failed to work altogether. Chaos during that vote was blamed on the machines’ performance, along with incomplete voting lists and delays in holding the election. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) decided to use the machines during the presidential election but gave staff more training and issued spare batteries for the devices at each of the polling centers in a country with chronic power shortages. Polling stations, which each had one device, had paper registration forms as backup in case biometric verification failed.

Full Article: Biometric machines in Afghan vote improve after last year's glitches - Reuters.

Israel: ‘Election on Tuesday will be target of cyber-attacks’ | Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman/Jerusalem Post

t the conclusion of the April 9 election, an Israeli watchdog group exposed a network of hundreds of social media accounts, many of them fake, used to smear opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to amplify the messages of his Likud Party. Shortly before that, in January, it was reported that Iranians had been using hundreds of fake accounts on Israeli social media pages, in an effort to sow social division and influence the then upcoming Israeli election. Now right before Israelis go to the polls, due to the proximity of the two elections as well as the immediacy and scale of the threats, it is highly doubtful that Israel has built a digital defense against cyberattacks this time around either, said Dr. Gabriel Weimann, a professor of communications at the University of Haifa. He told The Jerusalem Post that this Israeli election is likely to be marred by online election interference just like the last election, something that will only be fully understood after Tuesday.

Full Article: 'Israel's election on Tuesday will be target of cyber-attacks' - Israel Elections - Jerusalem Post.

Iran: It’s not just the Russians anymore as Iranians and others turn up disinformation efforts ahead of 2020 vote | Craig Timberg and Tony Romm/ The Washington Post

A recent tweet from Alicia Hernan — whose Twitter account described her as a wife, mother and lover of peace — did not mince words about her feelings for President Trump: “That stupid moron doesn’t get that that by creating bad guys, spewing hate filled words and creating fear of ‘others’, his message is spreading to fanatics around the world. Or maybe he does.” That March 16 tweet, directed to a Hawaii congressman, was not the work of an American voter venting her frustration. The account, “@AliciaHernan3,” was what disinformation researchers call a “sock puppet” — a type of fictitious online persona used by Russians when they were seeking to influence the 2016 presidential election. But it was Iranians, not Russians, who created @AliciaHernan3, complete with a picture of a blonde woman with large, round-framed glasses and a turtleneck sweater. It was one of more than 7,000 phony accounts from Iran that Twitter has shut down this year alone. And Iran is far from the only nation that has, within its borders, substantial capacity to wage Russian-style influence operations in the United States ahead of next year’s election. That means American voters are likely to be targeted in the coming campaign season by more foreign disinformation than ever before, say those studying such operations.

Full Article: It’s not just the Russians anymore as Iranians and others turn up disinformation efforts ahead of 2020 vote - The Washington Post.

Libya: Arrest of Russians in Libya raises questions over Kremlin election meddling | Jonathan Brown/The National

Authorities in the Libyan capital Tripoli say that two Russians arrested in May were involved in attempts to influence public opinion and swing possible future elections. The Foundation for National Values Protection, a Russian NGO, said on Friday that two of its staff were arrested while carrying out opinion polls. But according to Tripoli authorities, laptops and memory sticks discovered in their possession identified the men as working for Russia’s troll farm that “specialises in influencing elections that are to be held in several African states”. A letter stamped by the attorney general’s office and obtained by Bloomberg named the troll farm as Fabrika Trollei, Russian for “troll factory”, a collection of media sites and political organisations connected to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin-linked Russian tycoon. Mr Prigozhin was placed on the US sanctions list last year for orchestrating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The United Nations and western countries have been trying for several years to hold elections in Libya as a way of bringing about an end to the impasse between the internationally recognised government in Tripoli and rival officials in Benghazi.

Full Article: Arrest of Russians in Libya raises questions over Kremlin election meddling - The National.

Oman: Electronic voting system to be used for the first time in Shura elections | Times Of Oman

For the first time in the Sultanate, an electronic voting system will be used for elections to the Shura. The system, called ‘Sawtak’, translates to ‘your voice’ and consists of a touch screen, in which the procedures and steps of the election are explained so that the voter can easily choose the candidate. The design of the system is suited to various categories of voters, including the elderly and disabled people, the Ministry of Interior said. A statement online said, “In light of the Ministry of Interior’s keenness to use the latest modern technology in the electoral process, which makes it easier for voters to cast their votes, the elections of this period will witness electronic voting at all polling stations for the first time.” The Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Interior, Chairman of the Main Committee of the Shura Council Elections for the ninth term, signed a contract with the Industrial Management and Contracting Technology Company (AMTAC)to design, supply and install the electronic voting system for the ninth period elections.

Full Article: Electronic voting system to be used for the first time in Shura elections - Times Of Oman.

Turkey: Local elections were not free or fair | Thomas Phillips/openDemocracy

During a hurried midnight taxi ride between Istanbul’s two major airports, the faces of Racep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s authoritarian president, and Binali Yildrim, Turkey’s former Prime Minister and Istanbul mayoral candidate, gazed down at me from every lamppost and roadside hoarding. I had been invited to Turkey by the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) as part of a local election observation mission, and the omnipresent sight of these two moustachioed members of the ruling AK Party served as a reminder – if reminders were needed – that the elections would not occur on a level playing field. Turkey has been described by academics as a kind of hybrid electoral-authoritarian country. Its citizens are used to voting regularly and in relatively large numbers, even as the media and important state institutions are effectively under the tutelage of President Erdogan and his AKP. Recent plebiscites, including the 2017 referendum on switching to an anti-democratic presidential system, were marred by accusations of fraud and voter manipulation, but Turkey’s rulers nevertheless have cause to fear them. It is, despite President Erdogan’s best efforts to stack the deck in his own favour, possible for him to lose an election.

Full Article: Turkey's local elections were not free or fair | openDemocracy.

Iraq: Electronic Voting in Iraq: Mission Unaccomplished | e-lected blog

Fifteen years after US President George W. Bush gave his “Mission Accomplished” address, Iraq continues its struggle for democracy. Regrettably, key institutions like its Independent High Electoral Commission have proven inefficient in laying the foundations for a thriving democracy. What is worst, they are failing to learn from their own recent experiences. In May 2018, Iraq headed to the polls for its first election in the post-ISIS era. What initially appeared to be a relatively decent election gradually emerged to have involved massive potential fraud, forcing a manual recount of the results of a failed electronic voting system. These botched elections cast into serious doubt Iraq’s ability to strengthen its own democratic institutions and conduct future election processes. The tragic episode of the 2018 elections could have had a positive spin, had authorities learned the lesson. However, the fact that they are mulling over the idea of using the same unreliable technology, is a sad testament to the struggle facing Iraq’s fragile, corrupt and inefficient institutions.

Full Article: e-lected blog (a view on electronic voting around the world).: Electronic Voting in Iraq: Mission Unaccomplished.

Israel: Voting to stay secure: Israel a long way from electronic ballots | Ynet

Tears could be seen on the face of Orly Adas, the director of the Central Elections Committee, two weeks ago, when she began speaking at a meeting to discuss the final election results. The tears were an expression of the enormous tension and frustration felt by members of the committee during the period between Election Day and the release of the results. “We were under ferocious attack,” says Adas, referring to efforts by the New Right party to undermine the validity of election results that put them just 1,500 votes short of the threshold to enter the Knesset. That said, one must not cast aside claims made on social media by voters unaligned to a particular political party, who cite examples of distortions in the vote count. In the end, the question is whether there a way to improve the voting system and the count, both of which have barely been modified since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, despite the enormous technological improvements made in the past decades?

Full Article: Voting to stay secure: Israel a long way from electronic ballots.

Egypt: Referendum on Extending Sissi’s Rule Riddled with Irregularities | VoA News

As voters lined up outside the polls in Cairo Saturday, music blared and some among the crowds danced and waved Egyptian flags. Many people held flyers with a photograph of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and a green checkmark. The message? Vote “yes.” If passed, the constitutional changes proposed in the ballot could extend the president’s rule to 2030, and deepen the military’s role in communities. The Egyptian Parliament overwhelmingly supported the changes and announced the national vote on Wednesday. Results are expected by April 27. Opponents to the measure say the changes will roll back the democratic dreams of 2011, when a popular uprising lead to the ousting of 30-year dictator, Hosni Mubarak and that the referendum is marred by corruption and coercion. Supporters say a secure leadership will make Egypt safer and help the country climb out of economic crisis. “The legislative impact would be basically handing over all powers to the presidency,” explained Hisham Kassem, a veteran Egyptian publisher and analyst in an interview ahead of the vote.

Full Article: Egypt Referendum on Extending Sissi's Rule Riddled with Irregularities.

Israel: Can Israel’s election count be tampered with? An official explains the process | The Times of Israel

Last Thursday, two days after the elections, New Right party leader Naftali Bennett learned that his party was about 1,380 votes shy of earning any seats in the Knesset and demanded a recount, hinting at possible foul play. Sources in his party went so far as to allege that the elections were being “stolen” via a corrupted count. On Sunday, the Central Elections Committee granted Bennett access to the original “double-envelope” ballots — the “extra” votes from soldiers and diplomats on whose votes New Right had pinned its hopes of making it into the Knesset — so that he could confirm for himself that the count was honest. At the same time, the committee chastised his party for its insinuations of wrongdoing. In addition to New Right, several parties, including United Torah Judaism and Meretz, were in touch with the committee in the days immediately after the election over what they believed were mishandled ballot boxes. With the votes finalized on Tuesday — and UTJ bumped up a seat, Likud down a seat, and New Right still outside the Knesset — Bennett’s party remained insistent that it was the victim of fraud in the vote-counting process, asserting discrepancies in 8% of ballot boxes. The Central Elections Committee dismissed the claim as unfounded.

Full Article: Can Israel’s election count be tampered with? An official explains the process | The Times of Israel.

Israel: How Israel Limited Online Deception During Its Election | The New Yorker

Earlier this year, Hanan Melcer, the chairman of Israel’s Central Elections Committee and a veteran justice on the Supreme Court, summoned representatives from major U.S. social-media and technology companies for talks about the role he expected them to play in curbing online deception during the country’s election, which took place on Tuesday. Facebook and Google sent representatives to meet with Melcer in person. Twitter executives, who weren’t in the country, arranged for a conference call. “You say you’ve learned from 2016,” Melcer told them, according to a government official who was present. “Prove it!” When Melcer, two years ago, assumed his role overseeing the election, he expected that covert influence campaigns by foreign adversaries, similar to Russia’s alleged interference during the 2016 U.S. Presidential race, could be his biggest challenge. But, as Melcer and his colleagues looked more closely into the issues they could face, they realized that the problem was broader than foreign interference. Russia’s campaign in the United States demonstrated that fake personas on social media could influence events. In Israel and elsewhere, political parties and their allies realized that they could use similar techniques to spread anonymous messages on the Internet and on social media to promote their candidates and undermine their rivals. The use of fake online personas has a long history in Israel. In the mid-two-thousands, an Israeli company called Terrogence used them to infiltrate suspected jihadi chat rooms. Later, Terrogence experimented with covertly influencing the jihadis they targeted. More recently, companies in Israel and elsewhere started using fake personas to spread messages on behalf of political parties and their allies.

Full Article: How Israel Limited Online Deception During Its Election | The New Yorker.

Israel: Cyber expert: Future elections will have even more cyber issues | Jerusalem Post

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.

Full Article: Cyber expert: Future elections will have even more cyber issues - Israel Elections - Jerusalem Post.

Israel: Hackers stole Israeli voters information; officials deny theft | IBT

A group of Israel based hackers claimed that just a few days prior to the parliamentary election, they conducted a cyber-attack into the database of Israeli voters. But the officials have dismissed the claims. Israel’s parliamentary election or Knesset election will take place on Tuesday, April 9. But, on Saturday, April 6 the hacking group claimed that they have stolen important information of on millions of Israelis as they successfully broke into the voter registry. Later, the Central Elections Committee of Israel stated that they had no evidence of any cyber breach. As per a Hebrew-language daily newspaper, Hamodia, the authority has dismissed the hackers’ claims and mentioned that the accessed data was from another data leak in 2006. The report also added that there are thousands of hackers around the world and they aim regularly to attack Israel-based web sites.

Full Article: Hackers stole Israeli voters information; officials deny theft.