Top German spies fear Russian election hacks
Bundesnachrichtendienst headquarters in Berlin. Source: Wikimedia
Germany’s foreign intelligence chief has warned that the 2017 general election could be targeted by Russian hackers distributing misinformation and undermining the democratic process.
Bruno Kahl, president of the Bundesnachrichtendienst, said Russia may have been behind attempts during the US election to interfere with the vote.
The warning came a day after a massive cyber attack targeted the routers of nearly 1 million Deutsche Telekom customers. The German telecommunications giant was hit with what was described as an “outside” hack on the internet routers. Government systems, Berlin said, were not affected but they were targeted by the attack, which tried to implant malware.
“We have evidence that cyber-attacks are taking place that have no purpose other than to elicit political uncertainty,” Kahl told the Süddeutsche Zeitung. “The perpetrators are interested in delegitimising the democratic process as such, regardless of who that ends up helping. We have indications that [strikes] come from the Russian region. Being able to attribute it to a state agent is technically difficult but there is some evidence that this is at least tolerated or desired by the state.”
Germany blamed Russian hackers for a Trojan virus attack in August and September that hit the systems of two political parties, the conservative Christian Social Union in Bavaria and the Left Party. Chancellor Angela Merkel last week warned that “social bots” or programmes that spread fake news and sway opinions on social media might be used against her 2017 election campaign.
Kahl said many attacks appeared to be carried out to demonstrate technical know how. “The traces that are left behind in the internet create an impression of someone wanting to demonstrate what they are capable of,” Kahl said. He joins other leading German figures who have recently expressed their fears over Russian interference, particularly through the spread of bogus news stories.
Hans-Georg Maaßen, president of the domestic BfV intelligence organisation, said the internet had become “a place of hybrid warfare” where Russia was a key player. “More recently, we see the willingness of Russian intelligence to carry out sabotage,” the domestic spy chief said.
Maaßen said secret Russian agencies had been carrying out attacks on German computer networks which appeared to be “aimed at comprehensive strategic data gathering”. If people were given the facts would “the toxic lies lose their effectiveness”, he said.