The news of the hacking of former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz’s cellphone several months ago has generated a political storm which has become the focus of the elections campaigns.
The Shin Bet (Israel’s Security Agency) has notified Gantz several months ago that the Iranian intelligence has hacked his cellphone. The dramatic news hit the media over the weekend.
Gantz leads the new Blue and white Israeli political party running in the upcoming April Knesset elections and is currently Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main rival.
Gantz announced that his phone did not contain any sensitive or confidential security information. However, reports indicate the information stolen by the Iranians did contain “compromising” data that could be used against him in the future.
Gantz’s political partners expressed anger that he did not share this information with them prior to its publication in the news, while the publication of the news generated another political exchange of blows between Gantz’s Blue and White party and Netanyahu’s Likud.
The right charged Gantz with carelessness and negligence in security issues, and Gantz party’s accusing Netanyahu and the Likud of deliberately leaking the sensitive information to hinder his bid for the premiership. The Likud has vehemently denied that it leaked the information.
Iran’s Attack on Israeli Democracy
Ron Shamir, a researcher at the Hebrew University’s Cyber Defense Research Center and the former head of the Shin Bet’s technology department, explained that when information is stolen from cellphones, the Shin Bet updates the national cyber system, a very common practice.
He noted that it is very easy to draw material from a phone of any civilian, and Gantz’s phone was hacked when he was a civilian and after his retirement from the IDF.
The ability to attack our cell phone is very simple, he added. The most popular attack is through a malicious e-mail that infects the computer, or through a link that comes via an SMS that passes to a malicious site, or more advanced methods. This is not a difficult task, and especially if a state is behind the attempts.
He estimated that Gantz was targeted because he is a political figure, and perhaps less because of his past as an IDF general. He thinks that Iran is interested in influencing Israeli politics, not necessarily by supporting one candidate or another, but by weakening the democratic process in general and causing a massive political storm over the suspicion that sensitive information has leaked to the media, as Israel has experienced in the last 48 hours.
“Even if the hacking did not occur, the effect is that of a lack of trust and a fear that something unstable is happening, and form this we need to beware, he warned.
He recommended that the state provide a consultative framework for candidates and political figures, including for their advisers and for the parties, to allow them to deal with this danger.