Iran has been named as one of the two countries to be running a state backed hacking operation, in an attempt to access sensitive information from the campaign teams of US President Donald Trump and the Presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The other is China. Details of the hacking operation were uncovered by Google Threat Analysis Group (TAG). “Recently TAG saw China APT group targeting Biden campaign staff & Iran APT targeting Trump campaign staff with phishing,” tweeted Shane Huntley, director for Google’s Threat Analysis Group. He said that there was “no sign of compromise” and that both the affected users and federal law enforcement were notified. In a separate tweet, yesterday, Huntley explained APT31 was a Chinese backed hacking group and APT35 was an Iranian backed hacking group, both of which are said to be known to the threat analysis team for targeting government officials.
Middle East and North Africa
Articles about voting issues in the Middle East and North Africa.
Israel: Over 70% of ‘coronavirus voters’ cast their ballots in special stations | Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman/The Jerusalem Post
More than 70% of the 5,600 citizens who were placed under quarantine due to fear of possible exposure to the coronavirus turned out to vote on Monday at special polling stations set up to allow them to safely cast their ballots. Sixteen special booths were originally set up across the country and were scheduled to be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. But long lines and frustrated voters led the Central Elections Committee (CEC) to open additional booths in Kfar Saba and Tel Aviv and to extend voting time until 7 p.m. Israelis in quarantine were asked to come to the stations in private vehicles and not to stop on the way. When they completed voting, they were asked to return straight home. The voters were met by trained paramedics dressed in full head-to-toe protective gear, including gloves and masks. Votes were collected in a specially lined ballot box and were to be counted by election officials also dressed in protective gear. “MDA volunteers enlisted for the mission, operating at the special polling stations, and will be protected at the highest level, with dedicated anti-infection kits,” said MDA director-general Eli Bin. “Magen David Adom works in full cooperation and coordination with the Health Ministry, the Central Elections Committee and other parties, and will continue to do everything possible to assist in the national effort of preventing the spread of the coronavirus in Israel.”
Israel: Voter Data of Every Israeli Citizen Leaked by Election Management Site | Scott Ikeda/CPO Magazine
While most of the attention of international media was on the voting snafus in the Iowa Democratic caucus earlier this month, a much more serious incident was developing in Israel. The registration data of all of Israel’s 6.5 million voters was leaked thanks to a faulty download site for the Likud party’s election management app. The breach included full names, addresses and identity card numbers for all users. The culprit in this breach was not a faulty app, but the public-facing website that directed interested parties to the app downloads. An app called Elector was used by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party to deliver election-related news to supporters. However, in Israel each party is given access to the government’s database of basic contact information for all registered Israeli voters regardless of their party affiliation. The app’s official website leaked the administrative username and password via an unprotected API endpoint listed in the homepage source code. This did not require any hacking acumen to access; anyone who cared to view the source code for the page would see the admin login credentials listed in plaintext by simply clicking through the “get-admin-users” link.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.