Germany’s spy chief, Bruno Kahl warned that state-sponsored hackers aligned with Russia may disrupt German elections taking place next year by spreading campaigns of misinformation and hacking government emails which could undermine the democratic process.
Kahl, president of the German Federal Intelligence Agency (BND), added that the entire Europe was on focus of disruption but presently the danger was hovering more over Germany.
In an interview to a daily, Süddeutsche Zeitung on Tuesday (November 30), Kahl said that his agency knows of “cyber attacks that have no other point than causing political insecurity.” He told that pressure on public discourse and democracy is “unacceptable.”
“The perpetrators are interested in delegitimising the democratic process as such, regardless of who that ends up helping,” Kahl said, adding that the attacks may come “from the Russian region” where he claimed hacking is “at least tolerated or desired by the state.”
Kahl also claimed to have already witnessed targeted email spoofing campaigns orchestrated by foreign hackers although admitted attribution remains tough.
The head of Germany’s domestic BfV intelligence agency told Reuters earlier in November that authorities were concerned that Russia may seek to interfere in Germany’s national elections through the use of misleading news stories.
Earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also warned that social bots software used by Russian hackers might manipulate public opinion by spreading fake news.
In the wake of a suspected cyber attack on Deutsche Telekom on Monday (November 29), Merkel said: “such cyber attacks, or hybrid conflicts as they are known in Russian doctrine, are now part of daily life and we must learn to cope with them.”
Merkel faces a challenge from the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party which has said the EU should drop sanctions on Russia and that Berlin should take a more balanced position towards Moscow.
During the U.S. presidential elections too, intelligence officials believed that votes were manipulated by Russian authorities by hacking into Democratic National Committee emails which Russian officials denied. These incidents have sparked fear of nation-state influence on elections.
Some critics say a proliferation of fake news helped sway the US election in the favour of Republican Donald Trump, who has pledged to improve relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Defeated Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton accused Trump of being a Putin “puppet”.