Foreign entities said buying domain names of Israeli parties ahead of elections
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Israel Resilience and New Right lose English, Hebrew domains

Foreign entities said buying domain names of Israeli parties ahead of elections

Amid meddling concerns, cybersecurity expert says seized URLs could be malicious phishing-like scam, or simply opportunists trying to make money

An illustrative image of hackers/cybersecurity (iStock by Getty Images)
An illustrative image of hackers/cybersecurity (iStock by Getty Images)

Days after national elections were announced in Israel last month, over a dozen political parties were targeted in an apparently coordinated phishing-type scam known as brandjacking, according to an Israeli cybersecurity expert.

David Friedman, the deputy CEO of the security firm Domain The Net, said unidentified foreign entities acquired numerous English or Hebrew domain names of leading political parties.

According to Friedman, “brandjacking is like the uncle or cousin of phishing,” in which targets are fooled by scammers into thinking they are interacting with a trusted party. “It’s a kind of online activity in which an external entity takes over another entity’s online identity to make a profit at the expense of the brand, organization or business,” he said.

Friedman told The Times of Israel his company identified brandjacking attacks targeting Likud, Jewish Home, Israel Resilience, New Right, Meretz, United Torah Judaism, Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu from December 27 to 29, three days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that early elections would be held in April.

Friedman said many parties lost their Hebrew URLs or variations of their English ones because they failed to purchase the domain names for their sites.

He said the two new parties, Israel Resilience and New Right, had both their English and Hebrew domains grabbed, because both of them launched their parties before registering the relevant domains.

Likud website, January 10, 2019. (Screen capture)

Within minutes of MKs Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked launching the New Right on December 29, Friedman said, www.newyamin.co.il had already been purchased, before the party was able itself to register the domain.

Friedman said there was no way to determine if the purchases were an effort to undermine Israeli elections by someone intending to masquerade as the parties, or were carried out by opportunists who bought the domain with the intention to sell it to the parties at a high price. But he said the timing of the attack indicated that the parties were intentionally targeted at a time when website traffic would be higher than usual.

“Whoever did this, it was a deliberate, coordinated effort,” Friedman said, adding that most of the attacks appeared to come from abroad.

While there is legal precedent against brandjacking, Friedman said the practice is not illegal in Israel or elsewhere.

The only way to prevent brandjacking is “constant online monitoring and enforcement.” With no legislation in place to protect against it, Friedman urged politicians in Israel to follow the lead of large businesses, who he said are constantly fighting phishing attempts and other cyberattacks, and are thus forced to be vigilant.

A study released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center found that some 62 percent of Israelis fear that elections could be tampered with, but most are confident that the country is equipped to handle a major cyberattack.

Nearly three-quarters of Israelis, 73 percent, reported that Israel is “well prepared to handle a major cyberattack,” the highest percentage of any of the 26 countries surveyed by Pew.

At the same time, 62 percent of respondents in Israel said it was likely that future elections would be tampered with, slightly higher than the international average. A majority of Israelis also thought it likely that hackers would damage public infrastructure and access national security information.

Russia was the second-most confident country surveyed, with 67 percent of respondents saying the country was well prepared for attacks. In the United States, just over half of those surveyed felt the country was secure.

The survey was released a day after a report that Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman had warned a foreign state “intends to intervene” through cyberattacks in Israel’s elections set for April. Israeli politicians suggested that Russia intended to conduct such attacks. The Kremlin on Wednesday said it had no intention of interfering in Israeli or any other country’s elections, distancing itself from suspicions raised by Tuesday’s report.

On Wednesday, Israel’s Central Elections Committee said it was devising a detailed plan of action to prevent attempts by foreign countries to meddle in the April 9 Knesset elections, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “Israel is prepared to thwart a cyber intervention, we’re prepared for any scenario and there’s no country more prepared than we are.”

In Israel, the Pew survey was conducted in 1,000 face-to-face interviews between June and July 2018 and has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

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